The mother of one of the two Florida teens who went missing during a July 24 outing from Florida’s Jupiter Beach has filed a lawsuit, seeking to block the return of the boys’ recently found boat and personal effects, including an iPhone that may hold clues to the disappearance of 14-year-old Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos.
In March, Stephanos’ 19-foot Seacraft boat was spotted about 100 miles off the coast of Bermuda by the crew the Edda Fjord, a Norwegian freighter. Inside the boat were the boys’ tackle boxes and other personal effects, including Stephanos’s iPhone, which the crew sent via airmail to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC). The boat and other items are being shipped back and expected to reach Florida by mid-May. State investigators announced recently that, because the teens’ disappearance is not considered a criminal case, the items would be returned to the families.
But Perry’s family is challenging that decision, saying that all items, particularly Austin’s iPhone, should be held by law enforcement until a full forensics investigation can be completed. To that end, Pamela Cohen, mother of Perry Cohen filed a suit with the Palm Beach County Court on Monday. Blu Stephanos, father of Austin Stephanos, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission are named as defendants.
Part of Cohen’s argument is based on the fact that her son’s cell phone was broken on the day of the fishing trip. So, he sent several messages to friends and family on Austin’s iPhone. Thus, both families have a privacy interest in the phone’s contents. Plus, the phone’s GPS information may provide a tracked history of the boat’s locations, giving some indication as to just what happened to the boys.
“Throughout this ordeal, we have hoped and prayed that we will find out the truth about what happened to our beloved son,” Cohen posted on Facebook on April 23. “In a nearly miraculous turn of events, we now have what may be the key to answering so many questions we all have about that fateful day… We need to avail ourselves of the best resources and intelligence to preserve and retrieve this potentially vital iPhone information.”
Thus far, Austin’s parents, Blu Stephanos and Carly Black, have refused to sign a consent form allowing for the FFWCC to keep the phone in its custody and have it analyzed for any potentially retrievable information. Yet, via social media, the family assures it will have the phone analyzed and share any applicable data with law enforcement and Cohen’s family.
“We’ve been working very closely with FWC since they received the phone and have the utmost confidence in them,” Blu Stephanos posted on Facebook. “In addition, we’ve been working with the phone’s manufacturer who seems willing to help us try to get the phone operational again. That would be the first order of business, since Austin’s phone has been submerged in salt water for over eight months… Of course, any relevant information that might be retrieved from Austin’s phone will be shared with the Cohen family and the proper authorities. To me, this phone represents a connection with my son, so I thank you all for your continued support and understanding in this very sensitive, and very personal, matter.”
Cohen’s complaint also calls the FFWCC’s refusal to consider reopening its initial investigation “a dereliction of it constitutional duties.”
“Millions of dollars of public and private funds were used by FWC and The U.S. Coast Guard to try to find these boys,” the complaint reads. “The public has the right to know what happened to the boys, and what led up to the point of their disappearance.
Since the boys’ disappearance, both families have launched nonprofit foundations aimed at promoting boater safety education. The AustinBlu Foundation, formed last August, is aimed at raising awareness, providing education, and making tools and technology available to prevent boating accidents and fatalities. The foundation played a key role in the recent passage of the Beacon Bill, which provides registration discounts for boat owners who buy an emergency position indicator radio beacon (EPIRB) or personal locator beacon for their watercraft. The bill was approved by Governor Rick Scott on March 25 and goes into effect July 1.
In November, Pamela Cohen and Nicholas Korniloff, Perry’s stepfather, founded the Perry J. Cohen Foundation, which works to provide funding for marine science scholarships and for future search and rescue efforts.