'Prime suspect' arrested as search continues for missing Florida teen

Feb. 29 (UPI) -- A 13-year-old Florida girl remains missing following the arrest of her mother's boyfriend. Madeline Soto was last seen on Monday, police said.

Stephan Sterns, 37, was arrested for sexual battery and possession of child sexual abuse material, officials confirmed Thursday, who called Sterns a "prime suspect."


Orange County sheriff's detectives found "disturbing images" and videos that were "criminal and sexual in nature" in a forensic examination of Sterns' phone, police said, adding that there had been attempts made to delete the evidence.

Detectives said that the crimes were committed at the family's home in Kissimmee. Local police there were notified and are in charge of the sexual battery case.

The department released a video on social media showing Sterns being detained in a patrol car.

Soto was last seen about 8:30 a.m. Monday when Sterns was to have dropped her off a few blocks away from Hunter's Creek Middle School in Orlando, Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.

Her mother went to pick her up from school at 4:30 p.m. but was told her daughter did not arrive at school that day.


Authorities began a search that night.

"Sterns is considered the prime suspect at this time," the Orange County Sheriff's Office said, but added that he was not arrested in direct connection with Soto's disappearance.

Sterns invoked his right to an attorney when he was interviewed by Kissimmee police and OCSO detectives Wednesday night. That's when he was arrested and taken to jail, the sheriff's office said.

"Stephan Sterns had an opportunity tonight to come clean with detectives and help lead them to information about Maddie's disappearance," Mina said after the interview. "Her loved ones deserve answers and OCSO and the Kissimmee Police will not stop until we find Maddie."

About 100 deputies, detectives, intelligence analysts and bloodhounds have been deployed in the search for the teen, which included a wooded area near the school.

Soto is described as blond with blue eyes and is 5 feet, 1 inch tall. She last was seen wearing a green sweatshirt, black shorts and white Crocs.

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