Investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement say the mother of one of two teen boys who disappeared during a fishing trip nearly two years ago showed an “egregious lapse of judgement and failure to exercise due care.”
In a newly released report obtained by PEOPLE, the FDLE says the actions – or lack thereof – of Carlson “Carly” Black, mother of 14-year-old Austin Stephanos, “had the effect of culminating in the disappearance of both boys who are now believed to have perished.”
Investigators found probable cause that Black violated Florida State Statute 827.03, which governs abuse, aggravated abuse and neglect of a child. Top factors include evidence that Black allowed her son and Perry to travel offshore in Austin’s “minimally equipped” 19-foot 1978 SeaCraft knowing that the boat lacked basic safety devices. The report says Black also knew Perry’s parents forbade him to go offshore without an adult, waited more than two hours to notify Cohen’s parents that the boys were missing, and failed to notify emergency or law enforcement agencies.
The last known communication from either of the boys occurred at 11:24 on the morning of their disappearance, when Austin texted Black and his father, Blu Stephanos, Black’s ex-husband.
“What’s up? I am checking in. I’m just out here fishing,” the text read.
Records show Black testified that around 2:00, she had become aware of a “quick summer storm that rolled in fast … and was fierce.” Realizing that Austin hadn’t checked in again, she began calling and texting her son, as well as Diane Stephanos, Black’s ex-mother-in-law and Austin’s grandmother, whose home the boys visited to pick up tackle and supplies earlier that morning. However, records show that it wasn’t until 3:05 p.m. that she notified her ex-husband that she’d been unable to reach Austin.
“Call me buddy,” Blu texted to Austin after hearing from Black. Then again a few minutes later: “Hey buddy, got me and your mom really worried about you. Please call immediately or text back.”
With no response, Blu Stephanos set out on his own boat to search for the boys himself. It wasn’t until 4:12 p.m. that Black called Perry’s mother, Pamela Cohen, to let her know that the boys were missing. It was Pamela’s husband and Perry’s de facto stepfather, Nick Korniloff, who immediately called 911.
Black’s call to Pamela came “over two hours after they knew or should have known that the boys were in imminent danger,” investigators wrote, adding that it was Kornilloff’s call that prompted the massive, multi-agency search and rescue operation that made headlines worldwide.
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When reached by PEOPLE Pamela Cohen and Nick Korniloff declined to comment yet, saying only that they needed time to process the latest news. The Stephanos and Black families did not respond to calls seeking comment.
However, in an interview with investigators, Korniloff “emphatically reiterated his sincere belief that critical hours were lost due to the unexplainable delay in initiating an aggressive, coordinated and effective search and rescue operation soon after the storm,” the report reads. “He is convinced that this fact critically altered the possibilities of rescuing the boys while the opportunity still existed.”
Investigators write that the boat, “while by all accounts fundamentally sound, was not equipped with any electronic or communications equipment, such as VHF radio, GPS or EPIRB, which would have made a successful rescue infinitely more probable.”
The report pointedly adds that Black and her husband, Bubba Black, own and manage Jupiter’s Grand Slam Sport Fishing Supply, which means they likely had full knowledge of and access to marine safety and communications equipment. Plus, family members knew that the boys had narrowly avoided being caught in a storm while fishing on the same boat the previous day.
Still, FDLE officials say Black does not yet face criminal charges. Assistant State Attorney Greg Kridos concluded that, despite strong indication of poor judgment, investigators found insufficient proof to satisfy statutory language and applicable case law relating to Florida’s child neglect statute. Specifically, he says that boating on the open seas is not an “inherently dangerous activity,” which prosecutors consider a critical component in levying criminal charges of child neglect.
As it stands now, investigators have requested that the case be officially closed. However, should state officials choose to continue the case, investigators say Florida’s State Climatologist David Zierden is prepared to produce a comprehensive report detailing potentially contributing factors of the storm, and that subject matter experts with the U.S. Coast Guard or St. Petersburg’s Eckerd College Search and Rescue Team could provide expert testimony as to the effect that a delayed overdue vessel report could have on the statistical probability of a search and rescue operation.
“This would be of probative value if the State intends to prove that Ms. Black’s hours-long delay in reporting the boys’ disappearance to Perry Cohen’s parents and her failure to report the overdue vessel to the authorities in a timely manner may have diminished the likelihood of the boys being rescued safely,” the report reads.
Former State Representative Irving Slosberg, who requested the investigation, tells PEOPLE that he agrees with the FDLE’s decision to withhold charges. Now retired, he says he’ll ask his daughter, State Representative Emily Slosberg, to consider drafting legislation to improve investigation of missing-at-sea cases.
“I’m going to recommend key legislation mandating that the FDLE, rather than the FWC, investigate all cases of children missing at sea,” he says, noting that the agency has far greater resources for adequately addressing such cases.
Austin and Perry remain listed in the National Database for Missing and Exploited Children and investigators say they’ll continue to investigate any new leads.
Meanwhile, both families operate foundations that carry their sons’ names and focus on water safety education and legislation. The Perry J. Cohen Wetlands Laboratory, an outdoor classroom concept, is planned for Jupiter Community High School, where Perry would have graduated in 2019.