Body of Missing Young Girl Found, Arrest Made Shockingly Close to Home

Body of Missing Young Girl Found, Arrest Made Shockingly Close to Home

The discovery of the lifeless body of 13-year-old Madeline Soto on Friday marked the tragic end of a search that had gripped the community since her disappearance on Monday.

Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland, conveying the somber news, stated, "It is with a heavy heart I inform everyone that as we expected, Madeline Soto is deceased." She expressed deep sorrow for the community, mourning the loss of such a young life, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Prior to the grim discovery in a wooded area, authorities had already indicated their belief that the young girl had been murdered, as reported by NBC. Madeline's family was notified, and Kissimmee PD assumed the lead in the homicide investigation.

Stephan Sterns, a 37-year-old identified as Soto's mother's boyfriend, was subsequently arrested on charges of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material. Disturbing images and videos of a criminal and sexual nature were reportedly found on Sterns' phone, leading to his arrest. Attempts had been made to delete items from the phone, as noted by CBS.

Sterns is described by the police as the "prime suspect" in Soto's disappearance and death, according to NBC. Sheriff John Mina stated that they do not believe Sterns' claim that he dropped her off at school on Monday, asserting, "We believe she was already dead at the time and that Stephan Sterns moved her body in the early morning hours on that day."

The revelation that Soto was missing only surfaced when her mother arrived at the school to pick her up and learned that she had never been there all day, reported the Orlando Sentinel. Video evidence reportedly showed Sterns discarding items in a dumpster at the apartment complex in Kissimmee, with detectives later finding Soto's backpack and school-issued laptop in the same dumpster.

"We have evidence that shows Stephan Sterns returning to the complex, and Madeline was visible in that vehicle. We believe she was already dead at that time," Sheriff Mina stated. Consequently, the Kissimmee Police Department has taken over the investigation, becoming the lead agency.

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