Madeline Soto: What's next in Florida teen's murder investigation?

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.

One week ago, 13-year-old Madeline "Maddie" Soto disappeared, prompting a statewide Missing Child Alert. Officials confirmed her body was later found in rural Osceola County, just days after she was first reported missing.

Stephan Sterns, her mother's boyfriend and the prime suspect in Madeline's disappearance, is accused of moving her body in the morning hours of Monday, Feb. 26, after killing her in Kissimmee, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said. 

The medical examiner's office will determine her cause of death. 


Madeline Soto, 13, was reported missing on Feb. 26, 2024, in Orange County, Florida. 

Sterns is being held without bond in the Osceola County jail on unrelated charges of sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material. As of Monday morning, he has not been charged in Madeline's death.

RELATED: Timeline, everything we know so far about Madeline Soto's disappearance, murder investigation

Madeline's death is now being investigated as a homicide by the Kissimmee Police Department. 


Booking photo of Stephan Sterns from the Osceola County jail. 

Madeline Soto case: What's next in the investigation?

For insight on what typically happens next in cases such as Madeline's, FOX 35 News spoke to police expert Orlando Rolón, the former police chief of Orlando, and Dave Nutting, a retired detective and law enforcement officer.

During an interview with Nutting, he said the homicide investigation will remain ongoing as the Kissimmee Police Department, the lead agency on the case, collects and reviews the evidence.

MORE: Madeline Soto: Stephan Sterns waives first appearance day after teen's body found in Osceola County

That evidence could include items collected from the scene where Madeline's body was found, along with forensic and video evidence. 

"He's only been charged so far with the crimes related to what was found on his cell phone and in the house. So thankfully, he has no bond. So that gives the detectives some time to work with the prosecutors to make sure that once they do officially charge him with homicide, which I'm quite certain will be coming, that it will be a case that is wrapped up really, really tight," Nutting said.

You can watch the full interview with Nutting below:

We asked Rolón about the interview we did with Madeline's mother, Jenn Soto, on Feb. 27, where Sterns could be seen fidgeting with his hands and cracking his knuckles in the background.

"Do you think that police looked at that as well and kind of said, OK, something kind of is not right here?" FOX 35 News' Danielle Knox asked. 

"I can assure you that the law enforcement agencies that are involved are looking at everything and nothing has been discounted at this point. And the investigation is ongoing," Rolón said. "Everything the law enforcement agency, the lead agency investigating this case, may find to be suspicious or needing further clarification, that will take place."

You can watch the full interview with Rolón below:

Overall, several factors will have to come together in order for law enforcement to present what they believe is the conclusion to what led to Madeline's death. That information will eventually be filtered through the state attorney and the prosecution gets the evidence and determines what next step must be taken. 

Who was Madeline "Maddie" Soto?

Madeline was a student at Hunter's Creek Middle School, which is located at Town Loop Boulevard in Orlando. 

She turned 13 on Feb. 22. She had a birthday celebration the day before she disappeared.

Officials originally said Madeline was last seen the morning of Feb. 26 after Sterns allegedly dropped her off a few blocks from her school. 

Days later, on March 1, Orange County Sheriff John Mina announced during a news conference that Madeline was never dropped off at school and was dead before then. 

Video evidence showed Sterns discarding items in a dumpster at a Kissimmee apartment complex at 7:45 a.m. on Feb. 26, which was later recovered and identified as Madeline's backpack and school-issued laptop. 

There's also video evidence of Sterns returning to his neighborhood, with Madeline visible in that vehicle. Mina, however, said that the teenager was already dead at this time. 

Her body was found hours after that news conference.