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Madeline Soto: Boyfriend of missing Florida teen’s mom arrested, named ‘prime suspect’ in disappearance

The boyfriend of the mother to missing teen Madeline Soto has been named the "prime suspect" in the investigation into her disappearance. He has been arrested on unrelated charges.

Authorities in Florida have made an arrest and named a suspect amid a massive search for a 13-year-old girl last seen on Monday.

Madeline “Maddie” Soto was last seen Monday morning by her mother’s boyfriend, 37-year-old Stephan Sterns, who is considered the “prime suspect” as of Wednesday night, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

Sterns was arrested Wednesday by the Kissimmee Police Department for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material, the sheriff’s office reported. He is not facing any charges in connection with Maddie’s actual disappearance.


While investigating her disappearance, the OCSO said detectives found “disturbing images” on Sterns’ phone and a review of the phone’s data proved there were attempts to “delete evidence.”

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A Digital Forensics Unit was able to reveal that the images and videos on Sterns’ phone were “criminal and sexual in nature,” the sheriff’s office said when announcing his arrest.

The crimes were determined to have been committed at the family home in Kissimmee, prompting the local police to take the lead on the sexual battery case against Sterns. Authorities did not explicitly say if the photos or videos involved Maddie.

Sterns said he wanted an attorney during his interview with Kissimmee police and OCSO detectives before he was taken to jail, where he is being held without bond.

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“Stephan Sterns had an opportunity tonight to come clean with detectives and help lead them to information about Maddie’s disappearance,” said Orange County Sheriff John Mina. “Her loved ones deserve answers and OCSO and the Kisssimmee Police will not stop until we find Maddie.”

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Maddie was last seen at around 8:30 a.m. on Monday when Starns dropped her off a few blocks away from Hunter’s Creek Middle School near Peace United Methodist Church, according to Mina. When her mother went to pick her up at about 4:30 p.m., she learned that Maddie never made it inside the school that day.

She also left her phone at home on Monday, Mina said. When authorities went through her phone, they discovered Maddie told friends she wanted to “live in the woods” after her 13th birthday, which was on Feb. 22.

Mina said the reason why Maddie was not dropped off at the school remains unclear, but suggested she was possibly “embarrassed” by the vehicle she was in and asked to be dropped off at the church instead.

Jenn Soto, Maddie’s mom, said surveillance footage shows the teen in the church parking lot that morning, according to FOX 35 Orlando.

“I’m trying to hope for the best, but I’m scared for her,” she told the outlet. “I want her to be okay; I want her to be safe… I don’t want her to come back harmed. I just want her back – whatever that means, I just want her back.”

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As of Wednesday night, Mina said a team of over 100 deputies, detectives, intelligence analysts, specialized personnel and Bloodhound dogs were involved in the search for Maddie. The wooded area behind her middle school is among the search locations.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is concerned for Madeline’s safety, and our teams have been working around the clock in this investigation,” the agency said on Facebook.

Authorities have asked members of the media and the public to not enter any of the search areas to avoid jeopardizing the investigation. The sheriff’s office said on X, formerly Twitter, that they will announce if additional help from the public is needed.

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When Maddie disappeared, she was wearing a green sweatshirt, black shorts and white Crocs, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s missing child alert. She has blonde hair, blue eyes and is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and about 110 pounds.

“This is every parent’s worst nightmare,” Mina said Wednesday, later adding that “we will not stop until we find her.”

Anyone with information on where she could be is urged to call 911 or the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 407-836-4357.

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