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Osceola pastors console community after week-long search for Madeline Soto

OSCEOLA COUNTY, Fla. — Community members are shaken as the search for 13-year-old Madeline Soto turned into a death investigation Friday afternoon.

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“It’s very tragic news for anybody to hear. As a church and a community, it is our job to now come together more than ever,” said Dr. Hector Gaby Melendez, The Director of Unity Christian Academy.

Orange County Sheriff John Mina said all signs point to a homicide after surveillance video showed Stephan Sterns dumping the teen’s backpack and school-issued laptop in a dumpster.

Read: Sources: Madeline Soto’s body discovered in rural Osceola County

“She had family members, schoolmates, you know, people that were around her, and so now we mourn. We mourn,” said Melendez.

The Unity and Fire Church International prepared to hold a community prayer circle near Hunter’s Creek Middle School on Friday. With changed circumstances, they plan to hold a community prayer vigil.

Eyewitness News saw Kissimmee Police outside the home of the teen Friday hours after Sterns was taken from Orange County Jail to Osceola County.

As of now, Sterns has yet to talk to investigators about the whereabouts of Soto.’

Read: Madeline Soto: Community to hold prayer vigil tonight

On Tuesday, Sterns spoke to Eyewitness News inside their home, claiming he dropped Maddie Soto off at Peace Church, only one block from the school, on Monday morning. He also said she was sleeping inside the car on the ride there.

“She was asleep most of the way. [I] Told her to have a good day at school, and she got out, said I love her, she said thanks, I love you too, that was it,” said Sterns.

Both pastors said they plan to hold the vigil Friday at 7 p.m. near Hunter’s Creek Middle School.

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