Deputies: Boyfriend of missing teen’s mother considered prime suspect; arrested for sexual battery

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The search continues for 13-year-old Madeline “Maddie” Soto, the Hunter’s Creek teen who disappeared Monday morning.


1 a.m. Update:

Stephan Sterns has been booked into the Orange County Jail. He is being held on an out-of-county warrant.

10 p.m. Update:

On Wednesday night, the Kissimmee Police Department, working in conjunction with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Stephan Sterns, for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release.

Stephan Sterns is the boyfriend of Madeline Soto’s mother, and the last confirmed person to see her on the morning of Monday, Feb. 26, according to the sheriff’s office.

Deputies said during the investigation into Madeline’s disappearance, OCSO detectives found disturbing images on Sterns’ phone that he attempted to delete.

The OCSO Digital Forensics Unit detectives discovered images and videos that were criminal, and sexual, in nature.

Detectives determined that those crimes were committed at the family home in Kissimmee, and they immediately notified Kissimmee Police.

At this time, KPD detectives are the lead on the sexual battery case, working alongside members of Orange County’s Sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division.

OCSO is still actively investigating Madeline’s disappearance and Sterns is considered the prime suspect at this time, deputies said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sterns was brought to OCSO Central Operations where he was interviewed by Kissimmee PD and OCSO detectives where he invoked his right to an attorney and was placed under arrest and transported to jail, where we expect he will be held on no bond.

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

Previous Story:

Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Monday night they started the search for the teen but has been unsuccessful thus far.

“We’re not going to stop looking,” said John Mina, Orange County Sheriff.

Read: Sheriff: Missing girl Madeline Soto said she ‘wanted to live in the woods’

Wednesday, more than 100 emergency response team members searched the areas where she was last seen.

Maddie was last seen when she was dropped off at Peace Church Monday morning by her mother’s boyfriend.

“If you see my daughter, just please bring her home. I just hope you’re okay Maddie. I hope you’re safe,” said Jennifer Soto, Maddie’s mother.

Jennifer said she noticed her daughter was missing after she never met her at the normal pick-up spot after school that’s when she filed a missing person’s report with police.

Read: Large search party gathers for missing 13-year-old girl in Orange County

Jennifer said the same day, Maddie left her phone at home.

Mina said after searching through Maddie’s phone, they found text messages to a friend that said she wanted to live in the woods after her 13th birthday.

According to her mother, the family celebrated Maddie’s birthday with a party on Sunday.

Mina said they have interviewed the family, close relatives, and friends of her whereabouts. They are also using bloodhounds to track Maddie’s scent.

While detectives investigate their search, more than 100 members of the emergency response teams are searching in various locations to find leads of Madeline.

Read: Police: Woman dies after being thrown from pickup truck before chase; 3 arrested

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