Madeline Soto: Missing Florida teen's search now a homicide investigation days after disappearance

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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Friday marks five days since 13-year-old Madeline "Maddie" Soto was last seen in Orange County. 

The Central Florida girl was reported missing on Monday, Feb. 26, after not attending class at her middle school in Orlando. 

The last confirmed person to see her was Madeline's mother's boyfriend, Stephan Sterns, deputies said. He was arrested Wednesday night on unrelated charges and was named the prime suspect in her disappearance.

On Wednesday, Sterns was booked into the Orange County jail on charges of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material after detectives found "disturbing" images on his phone, authorities said. 

He is being held without bond. On Thursday, he refused to attend court for his first appearance.

According to an arrest affidavit, Sterns voluntarily handed over his phone to investigators, telling them he had "accidentally performed a factory reset" on the device the day Madeline was reported missing.

Investigators said they recovered the graphic photos and videos on Sterns’ phone.

Detectives said it appears that whatever alleged actions were captured in the images and videos happened at the family's home in Kissimmee, which is just south of Orlando.

Who is Madeline "Maddie" Soto?

Madeline is a student at Hunter's Creek Middle School, which is located at Town Loop Boulevard in Orlando. 

She turned 13 on Feb. 22. She had a birthday celebration the day before she disappeared. 

Madeline Soto, 13, was reported missing on Feb. 26, 2024, in Orange County, Florida. 

The 5-foot-1, 110-pound girl with blonde hair and blue eyes was reported missing on Feb. 26.

Her disappearance sparked a statewide Missing Child Alert in Florida. 

A Florida Missing Child Alert has been issued for 13-year-old Madeline Soto.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Madeline is "endangered," meaning that her physical safety is in danger, such as a predatory abduction or kidnapping.

Her mother said she had never run away before. 

 Who is Stephan Sterns?

Sterns is the 37-year-old boyfriend of Jenn Soto, Madeline's mother. 

He is from North Port, Florida, about two hours from Kissimmee, and still has ties to the area. 

Stephan Sterns was arrested and booked into the Orange County jail on charges of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material after detectives found "disturbing" images on his phone, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said.

He reportedly dropped Madeline off near her school on Monday. When her mother went to pick her up that day, she learned that her daughter had not attended school that day.

Stern is not facing any charges in connection to Madeline's disappearance. 

Contact the Orange County Sheriff's Office at 407-836-HELP if you have information about Madeline's disappearance or whereabouts