Mother’s Boyfriend Is the Primary Suspect in a Florida Girl’s Disappearance, Sheriff Says

Mother’s Boyfriend Is the Primary Suspect in a Florida Girl’s Disappearance, Sheriff Says
A missing persons flyer for 13-year-old Madeline Soto and primary suspect Stephan Sterns, far right, on display as Orange County Sheriff John Mina and Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland depart from a press conference at OCSO headquarters in Orlando, Friday, March 1, 2024, after announcing that their investigation has led them to believe that Soto was killed by Sterns. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

KISSIMMEE, Fla. — A teenage girl who went missing in central Florida earlier this week is likely dead, though her body hasn’t been recovered, investigators said Friday.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said the boyfriend of 13-year-old Madeline Soto’s mother is the primary suspect in the girl’s disappearance.

Stephan Sterns, 37, was the last person to see Madeline alive Monday morning, Mina said. Video evidence shows Sterns discarding items in a trash bin at the family’s Kissimmee apartment complex early Monday morning, officials said. Madeline’s backpack was later found in the bin.

Video also shows Sterns returning to the complex with Madeline visible in the car later in the morning, and detectives believe she was already dead, Mina said.

Sterns was arrested Wednesday and charged with sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material, officials said. Detectives discovered the abuse images and videos when they forensically examined Sterns’ phone, officials said. Investigators believe sexual crimes were committed at the family’s home.

Kissimmee police will take over the criminal investigation, while the sheriff’s office focuses on finding the girl.

Jail records didn’t list an attorney for Sterns.

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