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Madeline Soto’s mother’s boyfriend is refusing to cooperate in death investigation

Stephan Sterns is being held on 60 child sexual abuse charges

Dan Gooding
Friday 22 March 2024 15:49 GMT
Kissimmee Police provide update on suspect in Madeline Soto's death investigation
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The man being held on child sexual abuse charges in the case of dead Florida teenager Madeline Soto is refusing to cooperate with the police investigation.

After around two weeks without any news, Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland provided an update Thursday afternoon on the investigation into the 13-year-old’s death around 26 February.

Stephan Sterns, the boyfriend of the 13-year-old’s mother, is the only person to have been charged in connection with the case, but he has so far been uncooperative, Chief Holland said.

“He has invoked his right to a lawyer, so we have not spoken with him,” the chief said.

“Mr Sterns is not going anywhere. He is in jail and he’s going to be there for a while.”

Chief Holland said that she did not believe Mr Sterns’ lack of cooperation had caused delays in the investigation.

Madeline Soto was allegedly abused for years by her mother’s boyfriend, Stephan Sterns (Orange County Sheriff’s Office)

Mr Sterns, 37, was charged with 60 child sexual abuse offences on 12 March, after officers uncovered “disturbing” photos and videos of abuse on the suspect’s phone in the days after Madeline disappeared.

It is alleged that some of this abuse stretched back to 2019 when Madeline would have been eight-years-old.

The girl was reported missing on 26 February, after she failed to show up for school in Kissimmee.

A few days later, on 1 March, investigators announced they were certain she was dead, with her body found in a wooded area a few hours later.

It’s understood Mr Sterns was the last person to see Madeline alive.

He had been seen on surveillance video dumping her school backpack and laptop in a dumpster, before driving her body away in a car when he had claimed he was taking her to school.

Madeline’s cause of death is yet to be revealed, with Chief Holland stating her department was still waiting for the medical examiner’s report.

When asked if anyone else was being investigated as a suspect, including Madeline’s mother, the chief said they had not ruled anything out.

"Everyone that was close to Madeline is considered suspect until we have proven otherwise," Holland said.

“We want to make sure that we uncover every single fact and all the evidence. We don’t want to put a timeline on it.”

Orange County sheriff telling reporters that Madeline was presumed dead on 1 March

The chief said officers were still trying to determine where Madeline died and how adding that she would not release further details until officers were sure of the facts.

For now, she urged parents to speak to their children about abuse and to be aware of resources available to victims.

“Madeline’s story has touched the hearts of many,” the chief said. “Rest assured our department is working diligently on this investigation.

“We vow to do everything in our power to ensure Madeline’s memory is honoured with justice,” she added, promising further information as soon as possible.

Mr Sterns is currently due for a pre-trial hearing on 24 April, before a full trial by jury starting 13 May.

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