Mother’s partner reportedly subjected a missing 13-year-old, who was later discovered dead, to se*xual assault

PHOTO: ORANGE COUNTY/ORANGE

The tragic discovery of a 13-year-old girl’s lifeless body in a wooded area has shaken the community after she was reported missing, sparking an extensive search effort by law enforcement authorities.

Madeline Soto, last seen on Monday, Feb. 26, around 8:30 a.m., was expected to attend Hunter’s Creek Middle School but never arrived, prompting concern from her family. Her mother’s boyfriend claimed to have dropped her off near the school that morning, but subsequent investigations revealed inconsistencies in his account.

Concerns deepened when it was discovered that Soto had left her phone at home that day, containing messages expressing her desire to “live in the woods” following her 13th birthday, which had recently passed on Feb. 22. This revelation raised alarms about her well-being and whereabouts, according to the Orlando Sentinel

The situation took a darker turn when Madeline’s mother’s boyfriend, Stephan Sterns, was arrested two days later on charges of se*xual battery and possession of child s*xual abuse material. Disturbing images allegedly found on his phone led authorities to suspect his involvement in Madeline’s disappearance.

Despite efforts to locate her, hope dwindled as evidence suggested Madeline had never made it to school that fateful day. Surveillance footage from the apartment complex where they lived showed Sterns disposing of items in a dumpster, including Madeline’s backpack and school-issued laptop. Further examination revealed disturbing details implicating Sterns in Madeline’s disappearance.

Tragically, Madeline’s body was discovered in a wooded area off Hickory Tree Road, confirming fears of her demise. Investigators concluded that she had likely been deceased before Sterns moved her body on the morning of her disappearance, based on surveillance footage and other evidence gathered, WESHWFLA, and FOX 35 reported.

The discovery brought a mix of sorrow and outrage, compounded by an inadvertent social media post from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, which inadvertently shared a photo of Madeline’s body at the scene. The post was swiftly removed, but not before causing distress and prompting apologies from law enforcement officials.

As investigations continue and legal proceedings unfold, the community mourns the loss of a young life and demands justice for Madeline. Sterns remains in custody without bond, facing serious charges as authorities work to piece together the events leading to this heartbreaking outcome.

The tragedy serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerability of children and the importance of vigilance in safeguarding their well-being. It also underscores the need for swift and thorough investigation to bring closure to grieving families and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to www.childhelp.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.

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