Madeline Soto murder related to ‘act of domestic violence,’ 911 calls released

Posted at 11:52 AM, April 5, 2024

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. (Court TV) — While no murder charges have been filed in her death, an autopsy report is offering more clarity into how 13-year-old Madeline Soto was killed.

Photo of Madeline Soto

Madeline Soto was last seen on the morning of Feb. 26, 2024. (Florida Department of Law Enforcement)

Madeline’s body was found in a wooded area of Osceola County on March 1, days after she was reported missing. Stephan Sterns, identified in court documents as Madeline’s stepfather, is charged with dozens of counts of child sex abuse after disturbing images showing the teenager were found on his phone. Police have said that Sterns was the last person to see Madeline alive, and that he was seen on video throwing some of her belongings into a dumpster. Sterns has not been charged with murder.

Now, 911 calls obtained by Orlando station WFTV are shedding more light on how and when the search for Madeline began.

“We have a missing child since this morning. We already called three times, and the police didn’t show up yet.”

In a series of three phone calls, a woman calls 911 to report Madeline missing, but the calls do not appear to have been made by her mother, Jennifer Soto, or Sterns. WFTV’s Shannon Butler told Vinnie Politan on Court TV’s Closing Arguments that she heard from a source that the calls were placed by Jennifer’s sister. The caller gets increasingly frustrated during the recordings, repeatedly noting that no police have arrived despite their emergency calls. In response, dispatchers note that deputies are on other, more emergent, calls.

Stephan Sterns booking Photo

Stephan Sterns was charged two days after 13-year-old Madeline Soto disappeared. (Osceola County Sheriff’s Office)

In the recordings, the female caller tells the dispatcher that she is calling on behalf of Madeline’s mother. She describes the teen as having “dirty blonde hair, blue eyes” and says “she was dropped off at school this morning, and apparently she never showed up.” The caller says that she was last seen in the church next to the middle school, where Sterns also told police that he dropped her off.

But police say that never happened and that surveillance video they have obtained from that morning shows Madeline already dead in a car with Sterns.

Detectives have not revealed how, when or where Madeline was killed. Despite the autopsy being complete, the results will not be released to the public, because of a Florida law that shields the reports of the minor victims of domestic violence. In a statement to Court TV the Medical Examiner’s office cited the law when they said they were unable to share the autopsy report of a “minor whose death was related to an act of domestic violence.”

While that narrows the suspects who could have killed Madeline, police have not filed any murder charges in the case more than one month after her body was found. Sterns remains behind bars facing 60 charges relating to sexual abuse of a child. No charges have been filed against Madeline’s mother.