Madeline Soto Went Missing and the School Didn't Alert Her Mother

The boyfriend of Madeline Soto's mother was arrested in connection with the her murder. Disturbing images were found on his phone.

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Mar. 5 2024, Published 2:06 p.m. ET

Days after celebrating her daughter's 13th birthday, a devastated Jennifer Soto was speaking with the press about her missing child. According to Fox 35 Orlando, Madeline Soto was taken to school on the morning of Feb. 26, 2024, by Jennifer's boyfriend Stephan Sterns. Her daughter asked that she be dropped off a few blocks away at a nearby church. Later that day when Jennifer arrived at the school to pick Madeline up, she made the terrifying discovery that her daughter never showed up.

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Four days later, Madeline's body would be found "off Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County." Between the time Madeline went missing and her body was located, her mother spoke openly about her daughter all the while Sterns played the part of the supportive partner. Two days after Madeline vanished, Sterns was arrested after police found "disturbing images" on his phone, per CBS News. Since then, Jennifer has chosen to remain out of the public eye. Here's what we know.

Madeline Soto and Stephan Sterns
Source: YouTube/COURT TV; Facebook/Stephan Sterns
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Madeline Soto's mother spoke with the press at length about her missing daughter

Jennifer was visibly shaking during an on-camera interview with WFTV Channel 9 that occurred the day before her daughter's body was uncovered. "I feel like I can't breathe," Jennifer said to the interviewer. "All I keep thinking about is, where is she? Is she safe? Is she OK?" In the background, Sterns can be heard yelling at what sounds like animals. Interrupting an interview about his girlfriend's missing daughter is certainly strange.

Because Madeline was last seen walking to her school from the area where she was dropped off, Jennifer was working closely with Hunter's Creek Middle School who provided camera footage. In the wake of Madeline's disappearance, one member of the Orange County school board is pushing for change regarding absentee policies.

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Jennifer was never notified by the school that her daughter was absent all day. "You know, that very first hour is when you have the highest chance of recovery and so every hour that goes past that, you’re diminishing the opportunity to be able to recover that student or recover that person, so we want to be able to do our part," said school board member Julius Melendez to WESH. No one blames the school, and no one could have predicted the danger was closer to home.

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The boyfriend of Madeline Soto's mother is the prime suspect in her murder.

In a statement posted to Facebook from the Orange County Sheriff's Office in Florida, police revealed that on Feb. 28, Sterns was arrested for "sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material." Authorities believe the disturbing video they found on Sterns's phone was filmed inside the Soto residence.

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Authorities also have video evidence of "Sterns discarding items in a dumpster at a Kissimmee apartment complex at 7:45 a.m. on Monday [Feb. 26], which was later recovered and identified as Madeline Soto's backpack and school-issued laptop," per Fox 35 Orlando. Police also have footage of Madeline in the car with Sterns, who had returned to their neighborhood, but they believe she was already dead.

As of the time of this writing, Sterns is being held in Osceola County jail without bond. He "waived his public appearance and reading of the child sex charges in court," on Saturday March 1, 2024, via WFTV.

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