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Florida County Sheriff Apologizes for Posting Photo of Dead Body Believed To Be Missing Teen

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A Florida sheriff’s office has apologized after it “accidentally” posted a crime scene photo of a dead 13-year-old girl on Instagram. The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office issued an apology on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, after Sheriff Marcos López received criticism online for posting a photo of a dead body on his personal IG page.

A picture of the Florida County Sheriff
Source: NBCNews/X

The body, allegedly that of Madeline “Maddie” Soto, was one of the featured photos in a now-deleted post on Lopez’s page, the Orlando Sentinel reports. “On March 2, 2024, a post was made on social media about a community event for seniors,” said the sheriff’s office.

“In the post, we accidentally included an investigative photo.” The apology continued, saying the office immediately removed the photo. “We deeply apologize for any confusion or disturbance this may have caused,” the sheriff’s office said.

“As with any investigation, the information obtained is confidential,” the statement added. “And we will immediately rectify any mistaken disclosures.” The Osceola County Sheriff’s office has not responded to requests for comment. However, it is illegal to release photos or videos of “the killing of a minor” under Florida law.

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Anyone who “willfully and knowingly” does could face charges of a third-degree felony. This includes releasing photos of a dead body without the family’s permission. Many speculated while the office did not state who was in the photo. Based on the clothes, they said it was 13-year-old Soto. 

The Sheriff posted the photo a day after officials found Soto’s body on Friday, March 1, 2024. They discovered the body after a five-day search in rural St. Cloud. The photo appeared third in a series of unrelated images meant to promote a recent event with officers and seniors.

Afterward, the police arrested Soto’s mother’s boyfriend, Stephen Sterns. They took him into custody on Wednesday, March 6, 2024, and he is a “prime suspect” in the case. After apologizing for the image, the sheriff’s office alerted State Attorney Andrew Bain to the photos.

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Although he slammed the incidents as “deeply disturbed” and “careless,” he believes they won’t impact the case. Also, Russ Gibson, the former sheriff running to take back his seat, blasted his opponent and former deputy. He called Lopez out for the errors, claiming he published the shot of Soto’s body himself.

“This photograph was from an active crime scene where they recovered Madeline’s body,” Gibson wrote on Facebook. “And it was indeed a picture of Madeline’s lifeless body,” he added. “This is 100% unacceptable and 100% shameful and disrespectful to Madeline, her family, and friends!” the former sheriff continued.

According to reports, 13-year-old Soto went missing on February 26, 2024. The Kissimmee Police Department said she wore a green sweatshirt, black shorts, and white crocs when she went missing. In addition, the Orange County Sheriff’s office revealed that no one dropped her off “near her school on the morning of February 26.”

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Also, they claimed the last person to see her before her disappearance was Sterns. In a post on X, the office said video evidence showed Sterns “discarding items in a dumpster.” He allegedly dumped the girl’s belongings at the family’s Kissimmee apartment complex dumpster at 7:35 a.m. on February 26.

Investigators later found Soto’s backpack inside the dumpster. Video evidence also showed Sterns returning to the complex with Soto visible in the car around 8:20 a.m. However, authorities believe Soto was already dead at the time.

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