Florida Teens Lost at Sea: Everything We Know So Far

The months following the boys' disappearance have seen intense searches, haunting discoveries, legal battles and efforts to move forward

Photo: Courtesy Coast Guard(2)

It has been nine months since Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both, 14, set out from Florida’s Jupiter Inlet on a boating excursion and never returned.

The months following the boys’ July disappearance have seen intense searches, haunting discoveries, legal battles and two families’ efforts to move forward.

Here is everything we know about the situation involving the still-missing Tequesta teenagers:

The Tragic Day

Perry and Austin, longtime friends from South Florida, set out on their last boating trip on July 24. They were both last seen buying fuel for their 19-ft., single-engine fishing boat near Jupiter before taking off.

The boys went missing during a burst of bad weather. Their boat apparently capsized nearly 70 miles of the coast of the Ponce de Leion Inlet.

Perry and Austin remain missing. The discovery of the boat but not the teens left many worried and wondering about the boys’ well being.

Coast Guard Lieutenant Commander Gabe Somma said then that officials were “concerned” and planned to search “around the clock 24/7,” NBC News reported.

Intense Search Efforts

A massive search for the boys from Florida to North Carolina ensued, with U.S. Coast Guard Spokesman Petty Officer Mark Barney telling PEOPLE then that the search had spanned tens of thousands of miles.

“We are going to find them today. We are going to bring them home,” Austin’s mother told the South Florida Sun Sentinel then.

The Coast Guard called its search for the boys a week after the disappearance. The families followed suit, calling off their private search last August.

The families relied on volunteers, donations, boats and search dogs after the Coast Guard suspended its efforts. A spokesperson for the families told the Palm Beach Post then that continuing the search was “not practical.”

“Today, our hope becomes our prayer – that one day Perry and Austin will be returned to us,” the families of the teens said in a joint statement according to the Post.

Moving Forward

By the end of the year, the Stephanos family founded the AustinBlu Foundation, a nonprofit organization set up in the wake of the boys’ disappearance.

The family is now working to prevent boating accidents and fatalities by raising awareness, education and making tools and technology available.

“I can’t say that I feel strong every day. It comes in waves,” Austin’s father Blu Stephanos previously told PEOPLE. “But it gives me hope that something positive is going to come out of this, that we’ll be able to protect someone else from ever having to feel the way I feel or be where he is.”

The family also met with state Sen. Joe Negron and state Rep. MaryLynn Magar and came out with two proposed legislative bills: SB 746 and HB 427.

The bills would reduce boat registration fees by approximately 25 percent for boaters who purchase and register an emergency position indicator radio beacons or personal locator beacons.

Perry’s family founded the Perry J. Cohen Foundation in an effort to improve boater safety.

Discoveries & Battles

The boat the Tequesta teens set off in that fateful day was found in March, along with an iPhone and other personal items recovered from inside the seacraft.

The boat and the items on board were turned over to the Florida branch of the Fish and Wildlife Commission, according to a statement posted to the Perry J. Cohen Foundation’s Facebook page.

Now, the families find themselves at odds over what should be done with the lone iPhone – which belonged to Austin – found on board the boat.

While Perry’s family is lobbying to keep the cell phone in the hands of law enforcement until it can be conclusively examined, the Stephanos family – in agreement with authorities – wants the items recovered from the boat returned to families.

Earlier this month, Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother, filed a lawsuit with the Palm Beach County Court with the FWC and Austin’s father named as defendants.

Snapchats & Foul Play

Before packing the boys’ boat into a shipping container to send to Florida, those who spotted the floating seacraft took photos of the vessel, some of which showed the boat’s battery switch and ignition key in the “off” position.

Perry’s family attorney, Guy Rubin, said the switch was likely disabled intentionally by either one of the boys or a third party because the location of the battery switch makes it near-impossible for the boys to reach in high-pressure situations like a storm.

The lawsuit filed by Perry’s mother also notes suspicions of foul play.

“Plaintiff will continue to suffer irreparable harm if the iPhone is not properly handled as material evidence in a possible maritime crime or homicide,” the complaint reads.

Earlier this week, the FWC released 128 pages of social media reports, cell phone tower records, interview notes and FBI emails that shed light on the boys’ day out at sea.

Several friends reported receiving a Snapchat post from the boys with the words, “We’re f’d,” as the weather grew worse.

The final known communication between Austin and his parents was a morning text message of the words, “What’s up I’m checking in I’m just out here fishing.”

The reports detail Snapchats sent and Instagram posts uploaded by the boys throughout the day.

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