Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, went out fishing out of the Jupiter Inlet as they have already done many times before but they were never seen again. Perry was strictly forbidden by his parents to travel outside the quiet inland areas, but apparently he has disregarded this and joined Austin on the offshore journey. Austin, on the other hand, was allowed by his parents to take his small boat out to sea, supposedly up to 5 miles, as long as he regularly communicated with his parents on his cell phone.
Austin was communicating to his mother and father while he goes on the offshore, but the last known communication from either boy occurred at 11:24 am on July 24 2015, when Austin texted Black and his father, Blu Stephanos, who is Black’s ex-husband. “What ‘s up? I’m checking in. I’m just here fishing,” the text read.
Understand the case of the disappearance of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen
Cohen and Stephanos were avid fishermen and would go fishing from docks or at an area not far offshore. The two boys would routinely check in with their parents, every couple of hours. Stephanos’s grandfather told reporters that his grandson had operated the boat about twenty times and that family members were comfortable with him operating the boat.
At about 2:00 pm, Austin’s mother, Carly Black, noticed a “quick summer storm that was fast approaching, and it was fierce.” Realizing that Austin hadn’t checked in again, she started calling and texting her son. Despite repeated attempts, she never received a response to his calls.
At 4:12 pm, more than 2 hours after being unable to contact the boys, Carly 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 and initiated a massive search effort. The US Coast Guard scoured more than 50,000 square miles of ocean for Perry, Austin, and the boat.
On July 23, 2015, Cohen sent a message to another friend via Instagram that read; “Me and Austin are crossing to the Bahamas tomorrow. Come with us, we wouldn’t check in.” Another friend reportedly spoke to Stephanos about traveling to the Bahamas prior to their departure, with Stephanos saying that the weather was too rough. Cohen reportedly asked his step-father that night if he could borrow his GPS to use on Stephanos’s boat.
After 7 days, the search was discontinued, but a private search was continued by the family, helped by online fundraising. Neither Austin, Perry, or the boat were located.
Nine months after the disappearance, a Norwegian cargo ship found the vessel on which the teenagers were traveling, but without any trace of them.
The only thing on the boat, which was found near Bermuda, was an iPhone and a toolbox.
The discovery of the cell phone caused a dispute between the parents of the kids that ended up in court.
Perry’s mother, Pamela Cohen, asked Austin’s parents – Carly Black and William Blu Stephanos – that the iPhone, which was waiting for Austin, be turned over to a group of independent investigators to carry out an analysis of its contents.
Cohen argued that he would also have rights to the cell phone, since, on the day the young people left, his son was using the device, borrowed, to send messages – his phone was broken.
Perry’s mother said, according to “The Washington Post”, that she tried to contact Austin’s parents several times, but they did not respond.
The case ended up in court, and last Friday, in a Palm Beach County courthouse, the families agreed to hand over the phone, which was damaged by salt water and no longer worked, to Apple.
They reported that Apple would have agreed to review the phone. All data obtained would be sealed and sent back to the court. Apple did not respond to the information.
Police authorities and the possibility of a crime
Due to the storm that occurred shortly after the boys left the marina, while the boys were declared missing they were generally believed to be victims of the violent storm. However, with the rediscovery of the boat on March 18, 2016 the parents of Cohen believed that there was potentially additional information on the fate of the children. The boat was discovered to have the ignition and the battery switched to the Off position, which could potentially indicate foul play.
According to a report by the American network NBC, Perry Cohen’s family suspects that the disappearance may be linked to a kidnapping.
A video made public Monday by the Florida Fisheries and Wildlife Commission shows the boys setting sail alone. But FBI documents, seen by NBC, suggest the agency is investigating whether the disappearance is linked to a criminal act.
The FBI has been involved in the investigations since September of last year, and in December agents in Florida requested phone records linked to the “official investigation of a crime.”
Authorities have not commented on this.
For now, the investigation continues and efforts are focused on getting data from the cell phone.
“As a mother, I have to fight for Perry when he can’t,” Pamela Cohen said in a statement.
“We have to make use of the best resources and technology to recover this potentially vital information for us”, he highlighted.
Memorials for the teenagers
What exactly happened on the water remains unclear, but the fallout at home became a public, gut-wrenching saga for both families.
Both families set up foundations in honor of their sons. The Perry J. Cohen Foundation has donated to local organizations and schools with the Jupiter High School’s new Wetlands Laboratory named after Cohen.
Shortly after their disappearance, a makeshift memorial was created out of seashells and candles to honor the boys. Artist Shepard Fairey painted a mural of Cohen at Jupiter High School in 2017. A statue to honor the boys and others lost at sea was dedicated on July 22, 2021.
The memorial does not feature the missing boys and instead, a pair of life-size figures, one male and one female, stand looking out over the inlet. The female, wearing a wind-blown dress, shades her eyes with her hands while the male’s left hand rests supportively on her upper back. According to Blu Stephanos, the statue not only represents everyone who has lost someone at sea but also commemorates the Jupiter-Tequesta community that assisted in searching for Austin and Perry and supported their families.