Madeline Soto memorial: 'Service of hope and healing' draws mourners demanding answers

The body of 13-year-old Madeline Soto was found in a grassy area in Osceola County, Florida five days after she was reported missing, officials said. Her mom's boyfriend, Stephen Sterns, is considered a "prime suspect" in her disappearance. He has been charged with dozens of charges related to sexual abuse. Click here for the latest updates on the investigation.

While a Central Florida community mourns the death of Madeline "Maddie Soto, it also demands justice for the 13-year-old whom investigators said was murdered by her mother's boyfriend.

On March 6, Peace Church Orlando held a "service of hope and healing" in memory of Soto.

"There are times where words just feel so inadequate," said Pastor Jim Berlau. "Sometimes, our tears are all that we have."

The church is only a seven-minute walk from the 13-year-old’s middle school, and some of her Hunter’s Creek Middle School classmates attended.

"She was a sweet girl," said Adan Luciano. "She did not deserve this."

According to church officials, the Soto family gave the church their blessing to host the memorial, but it is not believed they were in attendance. Soto’s disappearance, turned murder, is hitting some of the community’s youngest members hard.


"There’s still going to be a hole in people’s hearts, but it might close it a bit more if there’s justice," said classmate Emanuel De Jesus.

Stephan Sterns, Soto’s mother’s boyfriend, was named the prime suspect in her disappearance but is not yet charged in her death. Soto was found on March 1, five days after being reported missing.

A crime scene investigative photograph seemingly showing the teenager’s body in a wooded area in St. Cloud was later posted to Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez’s Instagram account.

"How do you post a crime scene photo on Instagram?" asked Belvin Perry, Jr. "It was just totally unbelievable."

Perry, former chief judge for the 9th Judicial Circuit, said the leaked photo could have numerous legal repercussions.

"Number one, there’s the possibility of a third-degree felony charge. Number two, depending on the circumstances and some of the effects upon the family, i.e., the mother, there’s the possibility of a civil suit," Perry said.

According to Perry, the photo could also have an evidentiary impact in Soto’s case.

"There’s going to be questions raised about the integrity of the evidence and chain of custody," Perry said. "I hope that they would dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t,’ because with this gaffe, the defense will look for other things that they may have mishandled."

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) is investigating the incident. FOX 35 News has reached out to FDLE for more information, but other than confirming they are investigating the incident, they did not release additional details.