ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orange County Sheriff's Office announced Friday evening that the body of 13-year-old Madeline Soto, who has been missing since Monday, was found in a wooded area of Osceola County.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina had said earlier in the day that investigators were "confident" Soto was already dead.

What You Need To Know

  • Officials are still looking for Madeline Soto, 13, but are confident she is dead, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said Friday

  • Evidence recovered in their search for Soto have led law enforcement to that conclusion, he said

  • Stephan Sterns, the boyfriend of Soto's mother, is in the Osceola County Jail on separate capital sexual battery charges

  • Authorities said Sterns had "disturbing images" on his cell phone

  •  RELATED coverage: Arrest made in connection with missing 13-year-old Orlando girl

According to a social media post, Soto's body was found off Hickory Tree Road at about 4:30 p.m.

"It is with a heavy heart I inform everyone that as we expected, Madeline Soto is deceased. I am thankful that she was found and for the coordinated efforts of the Kissimmee Police Department, Saint Cloud Police Department, Orange County Sheriff's Office and the Osceola County Sheriff's Office that are able to bring some closure to the family." said Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland. "This is a sad day for our community and we mourn the loss of such a young life." 

The boyfriend of Soto's mother, Stephan Sterns — who is currently being held at the Osceola County Jail on capital sexual battery charges — was supposed to have dropped her off at school Monday.

That didn't happen, Mina said, and video evidence of Sterns returning to his apartment complex appears to show Soto, who investigators believe was already dead at the time, with him in his vehicle.

Police recovered Soto's backpack and school-issued laptop computer from a dumpster in the Osceola County apartment complex where Sterns lives. Investigators say they have video evidence of Sterns dropping some items in that dumpster at 7:35 a.m. Monday, Mina said.

Mina said footage taken at about 8:19 a.m. that morning, when Sterns returned to the apartment complex, shows what appears to be Soto's body.

Earlier in the week, the Kissimmee Police Department arrested the 37-year-old Sterns at his apartment complex on charges of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material. The agencies are working together on this case, according to a statement released by the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

Sterns has been transferred from the Orange County Jail to the Osceola County Jail and is being held on capital sexual battery charges, a Kissimmee Police Department official said. The reason is investigators believe Soto was killed in Kissimmee, Mina said.

The case is being transitioned to a homicide investigation, and the Kissimmee Police Department, headed up by Chief of Police Betty Holland, will lead that investigation, Mina said. He urged anyone with information to contact Crimeline by phone at 800-423-TIPS (8477) or online

Officials at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that Sterns was the prime suspect in the girl’s death and disappearance.

Sterns has not spoken with anyone, Mina said Friday.

Sterns originally was arrested because of images found on his phone, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said in a statement earlier this week.

“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,” the Sheriff’s Office said in a statement earlier this week.


Stephan Sterns, 37, has been named a suspect in the disappearance of 13-year-old Madeline Soto. (Photo: Osceola County Jail)

Authorities said in the press release that through the work of the Sheriff’s Office Digital Forensics Unit, detectives discovered images and videos that were criminal, and sexual, in nature.

The videos were found in the family’s home in Kissimmee, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

Sterns waived his right to appear before a judge in Orange County on Thursday and was held without bond before being transferred to Osceola County.