Father of Missing Florida Teen Speaks Out for First Time in Months

'My son would not want me curled up in a ball crying in a dark room'
May 8, 2016 1:40 pm Last Updated: May 8, 2016 2:20 pm

The father of one of the Florida teens who went missing last year has finally spoken out after a Florida Fish and Wildlife report was released last month, detailing its findings.

Philip Cohen’s 14-year-old son Perry, along with his 14-year-old friend Austin Stephanos, went missing in July 2015. Their fishing boat was only recovered in March, but there was no sign of the boys except for a few personal items, including Austin’s waterlogged iPhone.

“My son would not want me curled up in a ball crying in a dark room,” Cohen, 44, told The Palm Beach Post on Friday. “The times that I do, I picture him saying, ‘Get up, dad. Get up. Go live with passion like you always said to do.'”

Phillip Cohen himself lives in San Diego, but he was in South Florida this week to file a motion at the Palm Beach Circuit Court to gain access to contents of the iPhone. Last week, a judge ruled that Austin’s iPhone should be sent to Apple’s headquarters for a forensic analysis. The findings, the judge said, would be sent to Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother and Philip’s ex-wife.

Blu Stephanos, the father of Austin, filed a motion saying he has no objection to Philip’s request. Pamela’s attorney said she has no objection.

Cohen added that he’s “tortured” by what happened on July 24 and “how scared (Perry) must have been.”

“Your brain won’t even let you go down that path for too long because it’s too painful to think about,” Cohen noted, adding that he hopes someone might be able to provide a clue as to what happened to the teens.

“Perry’s missing. The Coast Guard is looking for them. I had to let you know,” Pamela Cohen told him the day after they went missing, he told the Palm Beach Post. He said they haven’t spoken since that phone call. Philip said that he got on the next available plane to South Florida and spent the following six weeks in the area.

Cohen said that the worst moment came when he returned to California with the knowledge ” that I probably would not see my son again.”

“I was basically crippled—mind and body,” Cohen said.

He added that he would never allow his boy to get on a boat without adult supervision.

“I would never allow my son on a boat without an adult,” Cohen said. “No way.”

And he said that a strained relationship with he and his former wife had kept him out of the loop about developments in his son’s case. In one example, Cohen said he didn’t hear that a Norwegian ship found the boys’ boat in March until he saw it on TV.

The two families, along with Philip Cohen, believe that Austin’s iPhone could lead to new developments in the case.

Robert Heller, a digital forensics expert with CKC Consulting in Texas, told NBC News last week that the phone could be revived—despite it being in such a poor state.

“At the end of the day, if you have a shred of information that’s recoverable, it can be helpful to painting a better picture of what may or may not have occurred,” he said.

The contents could include text messages that were never sent, call logs, or pictures. GPS-related information could be accessed as well, he said.

The two boys had gone out on a fishing trip the morning of July 24 from the Jupiter Inlet, just north of West Palm Beach, as severe weather was approaching. They didn’t come home, and after 4 p.m. the Coast Guard was dispatched. Officials found the abandoned boat two days later, but when a marine salvage boat went out to tow it back, it had drifted away.

“If the storm came and capsized the boat, the battery switch and the key would not be in those positions,” Pamela Cohen’s attorney, Guy Rubin, said. “We want forensic experts in accident reconstruction to look at the boat and tell us what happened. I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but I’m also trying to take it from a scientific approach.”