Madeline Soto: Missing Florida girl wanted to 'live in the woods' after her 13th birthday, sheriff says

UPDATE: Madeline Soto was killed by her mother's boyfriend, Stephen Sterns, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said during a press conference on Friday afternoon. The update comes after five days of searching for the missing teenager. Click here for the latest update. 

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The search for 13-year-old Madeline Soto continues. 

Orange County Sheriff John Mina held a news conference on Wednesday afternoon to update the community on the search for the missing teenager, who was last seen on Monday morning in Orlando. 

Sheriff Mina said that Soto was dropped off a few blocks from Hunter's Creek Middle School on Monday morning by her mother's boyfriend. However, when Soto's mom went to pick her up, she found out her daughter had never set foot inside the school that day. 

TIMELINE: Everything we know about 13-year-old Madeline Soto's disappearance 

Sheriff Mina said Soto was dropped off near Peace United Methodist Church on Town Loop Boulevard, a half-mile from the school. It remains unclear why she was dropped off at this location, but Sheriff Mina said it's possible she was "embarrassed" about the vehicle she was in and asked her mom's boyfriend to be dropped off at that location. 

"Why not drop her off at the school?" Sheriff Mina asked during Wednesday's press conference, adding that the sheriff's office is looking into it. They've interviewed people in close contact with Soto, including her mom, mom's boyfriend and friends from school. Sheriff Mina said no information indicates another family member was involved at that time, nor was there any "turmoil" in the house.

During their investigation, they also discovered that Soto left her phone at home on Monday, the day of her disappearance. When deputies searched it, they learned that Soto had told her friends that she wanted to "live in the woods" after her 13th birthday. She celebrated her 13th birthday on Feb. 22. 

Sheriff Mina said that the woods behind Hunter's Creek Middle School are among the areas deputies have been searching in. Over 100 personnel, including deputies, detectives, intelligence analysts, specialized personnel, and bloodhounds, have been deployed to help search for the missing teenager. Deputies and Soto's family continue to pass out flyers in the area to notify people of the ongoing search. 

"This is every parent's worst nightmare. … We can't even imagine the pain and anguish that Madeline's family is going through," Sheriff Mina said. "We will not stop until we find her."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Madeline Soto is "endangered," meaning that her physical safety is in danger, such as a predatory abduction or kidnapping. So far, Sheriff Mina said he doesn't know what happened to her. An Amber Alert, which is issued when law enforcement has a well-founded belief that a kidnapping has occurred or if the child is in imminent danger of death, has not been issued at this time.  

"We don't know if she was taken. We don't know if she stepped away. She left her phone at the house," Sheriff Mina said. "That's why we're putting all this effort into it. That's why we're doing this press conference, in hopes that someone from the public may have saw something. It might not have seemed like a big deal at the time, but now, knowing what Madeline looks like, maybe there's some new information that can help us find her whereabouts."

The investigation is ongoing. 

Who is Madeline Soto? When was she last seen?

Madeline "Maddie" Soto is a 13-year-old girl who was reported missing this week. She was reported missing on Tuesday after she was last seen at around 8:30 a.m. on Monday in the area of Town Loop Boulevard and Hunter's Park Lane in Orlando. 

She had just celebrated her 13th birthday with her family over the weekend, her mother, Jenn, told FOX 35. 

Soto is a 5-foot-1, 110-pound girl with blonde hair and blue eyes. Officials said she was last seen wearing a green jacket, black shorts, and white Crocs. She has a mole on the left side of her nose and the right side of her chin. 

Where are they searching?

More than 100 emergency response team members are out looking for Soto in various areas amid the investigation, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office. 

Soto's mom said deputies are using K-9s and a piece of her daughter's clothing to help track her scent near Town Loop Boulevard. Sheriff Mina said this yielded no results yet. 

SKYFOX flew over an area of Osprey Park near Hunter's Creek, where multiple crews were seen looking for the missing teen. 

Is she safe?

The Orange County Sheriff's Office said they are "concerned for Madeline's safety" in an update on Wednesday afternoon. 

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has listed her as "endangered." Here's what that means:

"A juvenile who is missing under circumstances indicating that the juvenile's physical safety is in danger, such as a predatory abduction or kidnapping."

An Amber Alert has not yet been issued for Soto. These kinds of emergency alerts are triggered when law enforcement has a well-founded belief, based on an active investigation, that a kidnapping has occurred, according to FDLE. There could also be a well-founded belief that the missing child is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. 

"We don't know if she was taken. We don't know if she stepped away. She left her phone at the house," Sheriff Mina said.

Madeline's mom: ‘I just want her back'

Madeline's mom, Jenn, opened up to FOX 35 about the search for her missing daughter. 

"I’m trying to hope for the best, but I’m scared for her," said Jenn Soto. "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." 

Can you join the search?

The Orange County Sheriff's Office thanked those wanting to help search for Madeline Soto but asked the public to avoid entering the search area. 

"For now, we are asking that people refrain from coming to the search area, and to let our Emergency Response Team handle that. But we will advise if that changes," the sheriff's office wrote on X. 

Have you seen Madeline Soto?

Anyone with information about Madeline Soto's whereabouts is urged to contact the Orange County Sheriff's Office at 407-836-HELP.