The family of one of the two Florida teens who disappeared at sea last summer is speaking out for the first time after being sued by the mother of the other missing teen over the iPhone that was found aboard the boys’ derelict fishing boat.
Margaux Stephanos, Austin Stephanos’s aunt, defended how Austin’s parents have handled the phone, which belonged to their son. The family of Perry Cohen, Austin’s friend who was also lost at sea, says the device could hold clues about what happened aboard the boat before the 14-year-old friends vanished.
“The family of Austin Stephanos will never and has never had any intention of withholding any information from the Cohen family,” Margaux, who is Blu’s sister, told PEOPLE in a statement.
She also said Perry’s family refused to share the findings of a private investigation that was commissioned by Perry’s stepfather, but paid for by donations from a GoFundMe account established in both boys’ names.
“Don’t we all want transparency? Don’t we all want the truth?” she wrote. “The truth is that the loss of a child is the greatest pain a parent could ever possibly endure. The truth is that not knowing or having answers is beyond painful. The truth is that this grieving process is never going to just go away. The truth is that we will all be affected by the loss of our boys every day for the rest of our lives.”
Austin and Perry, best friends from Tequesta, Florida, went missing on July 24 when their boat hit bad weather while fishing far from shore. Their capsized vessel was found by a freighter 100 miles of the coast of Bermuda last month. The boys have never been found.
The families of the Austin and Perry, initially united in their push to search for their sons, are now deeply divided. Earlier this week, Perry’s mother Pamela Cohen filed a lawsuit against the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Austin’s parents – seeking to prevent the state agency from returning the iPhone to Austin’s family.
Perry’s family wants the device be to be thoroughly examined by trained forensic investigators. According to the lawsuit, the family believes that the phone could even contain evidence of “maritime crime or homicide” that took place aboard the boat.
“The possibility of abduction and/or other criminal behavior has not been ruled out and cannot be ruled out until all evidence is thoroughly examined,” Guy Bennett Rubin, the attorney for Pamela Cohen wrote in a letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. “We do not know for sure if the boys were lost at sea accidentally, or if there was something more nefarious that happened to them. My clients have a right to know as much as can be known, as all parents would and should want. The public is also tremendously invested, both financially and emotionally, in knowing what happened.”
Despite a hearing scheduled for May 5, the phone was handed over to the family earlier this week, Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Law Enforcement Spokesman Robert Klepper confirmed. Late Wednesday, Rubin filed an additional motion for an emergency injunction hearing at the West Palm Beach Courthouse, aimed at forcing the Stephanos family to return the phone. Judge Gregory Keyser granted the motion, scheduling a hearing for Friday afternoon.
The “potential harm of releasing the phone is far outweighed by the potentially disastrous impact that would occur if the forensic evaluation of the boat in May made the contents of the iPhone of critical importance in the investigation, only to have released the iPhone from law enforcement control and chain of custody,” the motion reads.
“This is an extraordinary situation where this iPhone is the first and only link of physical evidence recovered linking Plaintiff and her missing son, and the only hope she has to find out what happened to him.”
Throughout the week, Blu Stephanos, via social media posts, maintained that the phone will be thoroughly examined by its manufacturer and independent IT specialists, and that any pertinent data retrieved unequivocally will be shared with the Cohen family and the proper authorities.