“She ‘was’ a happy kid”: Prime suspect Stephan Sterns’ interview surfaces online as Madeline Soto found dead

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On March 1, 2024, at about 4:30 pm, the body of 13-year-old Madeline Soto was found in the woods off Hickory Tree Road in Osceola County. The teenager was reported missing on February 26, 2024, after allegedly being dropped off at school by her mother, Jenn Soto’s boyfriend. However, she reportedly did not attend school that day.

FOX 35 Orlando reported that on the night of February 28, 2024, Jenn Soto’s 37-year-old boyfriend Stephan Sterns was taken into custody and named the prime suspect in Madeline’s disappearance. He was charged with sexual battery and child abuse material possession charges and was transferred from the Orange County Jail to Osceola County on the morning of March 1, 2024.

FOX 35 Orlando reported that in an interview on February 27, 2024, with Madeline Soto’s mother, Jenn Soto, her boyfriend Stephan Sterns was observed being restless with his hands and cracking his knuckles in the background.

Body language expert Susan Constantine, who is the president of The Human Behavior Academy, shared her perspective on Stephan’s behavior exhibited during the interview, although she is not involved in the case

According to the report by FOX 35 Orlando, human behavior investigator Susan Constantine assessed Stephan’s demeanor and said:

A press release by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office stated that during the investigation into Madeline’s disappearance, detectives with the sheriff’s office found upsetting pictures on Stephan’s phone while forensically examining the device. The examination of the phone’s data also revealed that there have been attempts to erase evidence.

According to The Independent, the press release read:

“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 report by FOX 35 Orlando stated that, as per an arrest affidavit, Stephan willingly handed over his phone to authorities, mentioning that he had unintentionally performed a factory reset on the device the day Madeline Soto was reported missing

According to the press release by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, their Digital Forensics Unit recovered images and videos from Stephan’s phone that were “criminal and sexual” in nature. Authorities also determined that those crimes were committed at the family home in Kissimmee.

Stephan Sterns’ Facebook profile states that he is originally from Lake Forest, California, but resided in Kissimmee, Florida.

NBC News reported that Stephan Sterns is suspected of moving Madeline Soto’s body. It was initially reported that on February 26, 2024, the teenager was dropped off near Hunter’s Creek Middle School in Orlando by her mother’s boyfriend.

However, in a press conference on March 1, 2024, Orange County Sheriff John Mina stated that new evidence indicates that she was never dropped off near her school on the day of her disappearance

According to the report by NBC News, authorities believe that the 13-year-old was killed in Kissimmee, where her family resided in an apartment, and that Stephan moved her body in the early morning hours of February 26, 2024. Orange County Sheriff Mina said:

“We have evidence that shows Stephen Stern’s returning to the complex and Madeline was visible in that vehicle. We believe she was already dead at that time.”

The report by NBC News stated that video evidence retrieved by authorities revealed that on February 26, 2024, at 7:35 am, Stephen tossed items in a dumpster at the Kissimmee apartment complex. Later, authorities found Madeline Soto’s backpack and her school-issued laptop in the trash.

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