The family of Perry Cohen, one of the two teens whose boat went missing at sea last July, are lobbying to keep the cell phone – which belonged to Austin Stephanos (the other boy who vanished) – in the hands of law enforcement until it can be conclusively examined.
The 19-foot Seacraft boat that Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14-year-old residents of Tequesta, were in when they vanished on July 24 was found on March 18 about 100 miles from Bermuda. An iPhone and other personal items were found on board the boat.
State investigators announced recently that the items recovered from the boat would be returned to families, since the teens’ disappearance is not considered a criminal case, and that any further information retrieval efforts would be left up to the families.
But Cohen’s stepfather, Nick Korniloff, told the Sun-Sentinel that the decision “is not good enough for us.”
“In light of new physical evidence – the boat and phone – it would be unconscionable that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission would not reopen the case, and hand back the most critical form of evidence prior to it being examined by the most sophisticated agencies the government has,” said Korniloff.
Blu Stephanos, Austin’s father, provided the following statement Saturday: “At this point, our family is hoping and praying that Austin’s iPhone, now in the care Florida Fish & Wildlife, can be restored to working order so that we can try to recover from it any precious memories that it might contain.”
But Cohen’s mother Pamela issued a statement that suggested the data recovery process might be better left to law enforcement agencies: “We urge Austin’s family to do the right thing and to allow law enforcement to retain the iPhone until arrangements can be made to retain the top forensic teams available to begin to look for the answers we so desperately need.”
“We have no choice but to reach out to State Attorney Dave Aronberg’s office who can simply issue a warrant which would allow FWC to turn over the phone to proper investigating authorities so the phone can be evaluated by experts,” Pamela wrote in a post on Facebook.
The boys’ bodies have not been found, and their families are aiming to advance legislation to increasing awareness of boating safety.
The Beacon Bill that the Stephanos family initiated via their AustinBlu Foundation was approved by Governor Rick Scott on March 25 and goes into effect July 1. The bill is aimed at encouraging boaters to buy an emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon for their watercraft.
“I’ve never felt so lost, so scared so helpless,” Stephanos told PEOPLE in December of the ordeal that began that fateful Friday afternoon, when Austin and Perry, longtime friends, failed to return home from their day on the water.
“At the same time, I’ve never had so much support,” Stephanos continued. “I’ve always been a pretty proud person, the one that lends the hand. To get all this support from perfect strangers all over the United States and even outside the U.S. was the most moving thing I’ve ever felt in my life.”
• Reporting by DEVAN LESLEY