Body of missing 13-year-old girl in Florida found in wooded area: Report

The search for a 13-year-old girl in Florida has come to an end after her body was discovered in a wooded area in Osceola County. The young girl was last seen on Monday, and the mother’s boyfriend, who had been labeled a “prime suspect,” was arrested, according to NBC News.

Madeline Soto was last seen on Monday morning when her mother’s boyfriend reportedly dropped her off just a few blocks away from Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando. And when the girl’s mother went to pick her up from school that afternoon, she discovered her daughter never made it to school, and her phone had been left at home.

The authorities launched a search for the girl that night.

Stephan Sterns, 37, the boyfriend of the girl’s mother, was the last person to see Madeline. He was arrested Wednesday night and charged with sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material.

The Orange County Sheriff’s Office posted to X, writing: “This evening, the Kissimmee Police Department, working in conjunction with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Stephan Sterns, 37, for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material.”

“Stephan Sterns is the boyfriend of Madeline’s mother, and the last confirmed person to see her on the morning of Monday, February 26. During the investigation into Madeline’s disappearance, Orange County Sheriff’s Office detectives discovered disturbing images when they forensically examined Sterns’ phone. A review of the phone’s data revealed attempts to delete evidence.”

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said Madeline was likely already dead on Monday morning. The authorities believe Madeline died in Orange County and was eventually moved to Osceola County in the early morning hours of February 26, according to WFLA.

“We have video evidence that shows Stephan Sterns discarding items in a dumpster in that apartment complex in Kissimmee at 7:35,” Mina said. “Detectives later recovered Madeline’s backpack and her school-issued laptop from that dumpster.”

Mina went on to say that a video revealed that Sterns returned to the complex with Madeline still in the car 45 minutes later.

“We believe she was already dead at that time,” Mina said.

On Friday, the Orange County Public Schools Superintendent released a statement after Madeline’s body was found:

“I am heartbroken to hear from the Orange County Sheriff’s Office of the tragic death of our precious student, Madeline Soto. My thoughts and prayers go out to Maddie’s family and her school community. To lose a child so suddenly and tragically is extremely difficult especially for family and friends. Counselors continue to be available for any student or staff member dealing with the news. I ask that you keep the entire Hunter’s Creek Middle School community in your prayers as they grieve the loss of one of their own.”

Since it is believed Madeline was killed in Kissimmee, the authorities there have taken over the investigation.

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