'My heart aches knowing you will be 13 forever': Family of Maddie Soto speaks

The family of Madeline Soto spoke publicly for the first time since her death at a vigil for the teenager. 

Maddie Soto’s family and community members gathered at a vigil Saturday to remember the 13-year-old who was found dead days after she was reported missing in February. The 13-year-old’s stepmother, Tatiana Wallace, spoke to those who attended the vigil. 

"We were robbed of seeing you create such a beautiful future," said Wallace. "My heart aches knowing you will be 13 forever."

The prime suspect in Soto’s homicide case is Stephan Sterns, who was Soto’s biological mother’s boyfriend. So far, he has not been charged in her death. 

However, redacted court documents reveal he may have abused Soto. He’s facing more than 60 charges of sexual battery, molestation, and possession of child porn. The crimes date back to 2019. 

"I stand before you not only as a grieving stepmom but as a woman who is burdened by a conversation we shy away from. A conversation about sexual abuse. My heart aches as I share with you the pain of losing a child in such a heinous act," said Wallace.

"It's a reality that no parent should ever have to face. Yet here we are, grappling with the aftermath of a tragedy that has shattered our lives," she continued. 

As she spoke to the crowd of people in mourning, Wallace left families with a message. 

"In the wake of the devastation, I encourage all of you to have the courage to initiate this uncomfortable yet crucial dialog with your children. Let us not allow fear or discomfort to silence our voices to the dangers lurking in the shadows," she said. 

Soto’s stepmom and father visited the memorial for the teen on Saturday. It’s full of letters, toys and flowers. Some community members even laminated letters and attached them to the fence to preserve them, like Ashley Ohmart. 

"Whether you knew her or not, whether you live right here or if you live in Australia. She matters to so many people," said Ohmart. "It means so much to know that her story has spread so far."

The group that’s been working to honor, remember, and advocate for child victims of sexual abuse says they will continue their fight. 

"We are lending our voice and our actions to precious Maddie. Also, beyond the courthouse, we are working diligently in establishing the Madeline Soto Act with the family and the pertinent figures," said Jenny Esquivel, who organized the vigil. 

The group is encouraging people to bring a lock to the memorial site as a way to honor and remember Soto forever.