Osceola County Sheriff’s Office Apologizes for Inadvertently Posting Crime Scene Photo of Maddie Soto

The Osceola County Sheriff’s Office is embroiled in controversy after a crime scene photograph of 13-year-old Madeline “Maddie” Soto, who was at the heart of a five-day search following her disappearance on February 26, was inadvertently posted on Sheriff Marco Lopez’s Instagram account. The photograph, which was swiftly identified by former Sheriff Russ Gibson on Facebook, depicted the lifeless body of Soto found in a wooded area near St. Cloud. The incident has sparked widespread concern and prompted a response from the sheriff’s office and State Attorney Andrew Bain.

Sheriff Lopez, at the scene, confirmed the discovery of a body with clothing matching that of the missing teen. However, the photo’s posting, purportedly included by mistake in a social media update about a community event, has led to an apology from the sheriff’s office, emphasizing the confidentiality of ongoing investigations and the intent to rectify any unintended disclosures promptly. The statement from the sheriff’s office expressed deep apologies for the disturbance and confusion caused by this error.

Amidst the fallout, the office of State Attorney Bain has also weighed in, expressing disturbance over the public release of the photo, although it is believed not to impact the case’s evidence currently. Bain stressed the importance of focusing on achieving justice for Soto. Meanwhile, Stephan Sterns, the boyfriend of Soto’s mother and the prime suspect in her disappearance and death remains in custody without bail on charges unrelated to Soto’s death but involving sexual offenses against a child.

The sheriff’s office has not clarified who exactly posted the controversial photo or how the mix-up occurred, especially given its sensitive nature and connection to an ongoing criminal investigation. This incident has raised questions about the handling of confidential investigative materials and the accountability within the sheriff’s office.

Former Sheriff Gibson, challenging Lopez in the upcoming 2024 election, has pointed out the grave insensitivity of the photo’s inclusion in a seemingly unrelated social media post about a senior community event, marked by a caption starkly contrasting the gravity of the crime scene it accompanied.


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