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Florida girl still missing after mother's boyfriend arrested for disturbing images

13-year-old Madeline Soto is still missing after her mother's boyfriend, Stephan Sterns, was arrested for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material, Florida officials said Thursday. 

Soto was last seen February 26. Sterns, 37, was the last person to see her, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said in a news release

During the investigation of Soto's disappearance, detectives with the Orange County Sheriff's Office found disturbing images on Sterns's phone, officials said. 

The images and videos were "criminal, and sexual in nature," police said. Investigators also found through phone's data there were attempts to delete evidence.

MAJOR DEVELOPMENT in the case of missing 13-year-old Madeline Soto: This evening, the Kissimmee Police Department, working in conjunction with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, arrested Stephan Sterns, 37, for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material. Stephan Sterns is the boyfriend of Madeline’s mother, and the last confirmed person to see her on the morning of Monday, February 26. During the investigation into Madeline’s disappearance, Orange County Sheriff’s Office detectives discovered disturbing images when they forensically examined Sterns’ phone. A review of the phone’s data revealed attempts to delete evidence. Through the work of our Digital Forensics Unit earlier today, detectives discovered images and videos that were criminal, and sexual in nature. Detectives then were able to determine 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 our Criminal Investigations Division. OCSO is still actively investigating Madeline’s disappearance and Sterns is considered the prime suspect at this time. This afternoon, Sterns was brought to OCSO Central Operations where he was interviewed by Kissimmee PD and OCSO detectives. 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 Kisssimmee Police will not stop until we find Maddie.” The search for Madeline continues.

Posted by Orange County Sheriff's Office, Florida on Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The criminal activity was committed at the family's home in Kissimmee, police said. Kissimmee Police Department was notified, and detectives from the department will now work alongside Orange County's criminal investigations division in a sexual battery case, police said. 

Sterns was brought in for questioning on Wednesday and invoked his right to an attorney. He and was placed under arrest and transported to jail, and it is expected he will be held on no bond, the sheriff's department said.

Jail records do not provide any details into Sterns' charges. 

"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."

Madeline was last seen wearing a green sweatshirt, black shorts and white Crocs shoes. Those with information are urged to call 911, 407-836-4357, or contact Central Florida Crimeline, the St. Cloud Police Department, which is nearby, said on Facebook. 

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