Body of Missing Girl Madeline Soto Found 30 Minutes From Disney World, Prime Suspect Claims to Be Disney Cast Member

madeline soto case
Credit: Facebook/Orange County Sheriff's Office/Soto Family/Canva

The body of a 13-year-old girl who was reported missing on Monday has been found in Osceola County, according to the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, and the only suspect in the girl’s disappearance–and now in her murder–claims to be a Disney World cast member.

WARNING: The following article mentions and/or discusses topics that may be distressing for certain audiences. Viewer discretion is advised. 

missing teen madeline soto

Credit: Family of Madeline Soto

Madeline Soto was reported missing on Monday afternoon after Stephan Sterns, the boyfriend of the young girl’s mother, said he dropped Madeline off near Hunter’s Creek Middle School, where she was a student. It was not uncommon for Sterns to take the 13-year-old to school in the mornings.

But detectives discovered that the girl never showed up at school that day, and an investigation into her whereabouts was launched. Orange County Sheriff’s officers noted that Sterns was the last person to see the teen girl alive.

In an update on Friday afternoon, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said that the department’s focus shifted to finding Soto’s body earlier in the investigation, following evidence that suggested the young girl was already dead.

“We believe she was already dead at the time and that Stephan Sterns moved her body in the early morning hours on that day,” Mina said. “We have video evidence that shows Stephan Sterns discarding items in a dumpster in that apartment complex in Kissimmee at 7:35 a.m. [on Monday morning].”

Kissimmee Police took over as the lead agency, and on Wednesday, February 28, 37-year-old Stephan Sterns was arrested and charged with sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material. Investigators determined that the acts took place in the family home.

A Tragic Ending to the Search for the Young Girl

On Friday afternoon, Orange County Sheriff’s deputies said Madeline Soto’s body had been found around 4:30 p.m. in a wooded area along Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County, which is located approximately 32 miles southeast of the Walt Disney World Resort.

map of disney world to hickory tree road

Credit: Google Maps

Investigators said the girl’s family has been notified.

In a release, Kissimmee Police Chief Betty Holland said the following:

“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. This is a sad day for our community and we mourn the loss of such a young life.”

“Last night, detectives from the Kissimmee Police Department met with Madeline’s mother, and they had to tell her the very devastating news that although we have not found Madeline, we are now confident that she is dead,” Mina said during the update.

Stephan Sterns, Madeline’s mother’s boyfriend, has made claims that he is a cast member at the Walt Disney World Resort, though Disney has refuted those claims.

stephan sterns facebook page

Credit: Facebook / Canva

Sterns’ Facebook profile states that he currently lives in Kissimmee, Florida, and works as a cast member at Disney World, but there’s no definitive proof to substantiate his claims.

“It’s hard not to blame myself,” Sterns said during an interview on Tuesday. “I dropped her off [at school] early; I could have waited longer. She looked okay; she was walking towards the school. I went on with my day.”

But investigators now say that Sterns already knew where Soto was, as he had allegedly killed her and hidden her body along Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County the day before the interview. His arrest followed one day after the interview.

Stephan Sterns arrest

Credit: Orange County Sheriff’s Office

Suspect Appears in Court

Sterns is being held in Orange County Jail but has not been charged in the death of Madeline Soto.

The 37-year-old appeared in court for the first time on Saturday, but only his attorney spoke, as Sterns never said a word during the proceeding.

“Your honor, at this time, I’m going to waive Mr. Stern’s appearance,” Stern’s attorney said as he addressed the judge. “I’m also going to waive the reading of these charges. Mr. Sterns is aware of what he’s been arrested for.”

“Sir, you got zero bond,” the judge said to Stephan Sterns in the courtroom.

On Saturday, the Kissimmee Police Department said that more charges could be coming to Sterns, but only after the department conducted a thorough investigation into the crime.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!

One comment

  1. The only good thing is that jail justice will be done on him. In jail if you hurt women, children or animals the other inmates eventually get to you. This poor baby. I wonder if she ever said anything to her mom about the boyfriend’s behavior? Normally they act out in subtle ways. I wish she would have told a teacher or counselor if she couldn’t tell her mom.

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