Osceola County Sheriff Lopez apologizes after social media post shows possible body of Madeline Soto

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — The Osceola County Sheriff is responding to outrage after he shared a picture of what is believed to be 13-year-old Madeline Soto’s lifeless body on social media.


Sheriff Marcos Lopez said it was an accident.

The photo was posted on Lopez’s personal Instagram page less than 24 hours after law enforcement found Soto’s body in a rural area outside St. Cloud.

The tragic discovery was five days after the 13-year-old was reported missing.

The disturbing photo shows a body in the woods and dressed in the clothes Stephan Sterns said she was last seen in.

Lopez said he “accidentally” posted the image when sharing a post of himself visiting senior citizens.

Also, this past week, Osceola Sheriff’s executive director Nirva Rodriguez posted a selfie with suspect Stephan Sterns being perp walked out with a caption reading, “If God’s love has been poured out over your life, don’t allow evil to keep you away from what He has prepared for you.”

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“All of those things are against the policies and procedures that they have outlined,” said law enforcement expert Randy Nelson.

Nelson said both Lopez’ and Rodriguez’ posts clearly violate the Sheriff’s own social media policy which states it is “explicitly prohibited” to post information “from an ongoing criminal investigation including photographs.”

The policy also states, “not to make statements about the guilt or innocence of any suspect.”

“It makes you look at the leadership. I mean, that’s, that’s all one can do. And once again, it goes back to transparency and accountability,” Nelson said.

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Osceola County Sheriff’s Office was not even investigating Madeline Soto’s death. Kissimmee Police was the lead agency. Osceola County Sheriff’s Office was only part of the search.

That leaves the big question, why did Sheriff Marcos Lopez even have this graphic photo?

After multiple attempts to get more information, Osceola County Sheriff’s Office would not say why the photo was on the sheriff’s phone or who took the picture. The agency also would not say if Rodriguez were under investigation.

We also asked if the Sheriff has personally apologized to Madeline Soto’s family. The Office did not answer our question, but released a statement that said in part, “We deeply apologize for any confusion or disturbance this may have cause.”

State Attorney Andrew Bain told Channel 9 he is “deeply disturbed” that the photos were “carelessly made public”.

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The posts have questions on if this could affect prosecution.

Bain told Channel 9 he “does not believe these photos will have any evidentiary impact on the case as of now”, but he said the photos were released in “poor taste.”

“It’s extremely unprofessional. It makes you question about how they’re handling the evidence in general, you know, the quality of their work,” Weeden said.

Defense Attorney Roger Weeden says if this case goes to trial, Osceola’s actions could be brought up as a problem that could taint a juror’s perception.

“We’re allowed to bring out in front of a jury the steps that the law enforcement made in the investigation. Also, we can bring out any bias or prejudice that may be within the law enforcement investigation,” Weeden said, speaking about what defense attorneys are able to do in trials.

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