Parents of Missing Florida Teen Speak Out: ‘He Wants Us to Know What Happened’

May 5, 2016 3:32 pm Last Updated: May 5, 2016 3:32 pm

The mother and stepfather of a Florida teen who went missing at sea last July have explained what they’re doing to get answers.

“In our private lives, we were very private,” Perry Cohen’s stepfather Nicholas Korniloff told PEOPLE in their home in Florida. “We learned quickly that when your kid is missing, all of those things come off the table and you do what you have to do to get the word out. And if there’s a chance at hope, you fight and never give up.”

Perry and his friend, Austin Stephanos, both 14, went missing July 24, 2015, when they went out for a day of fishing, leaving from Jupiter, Fla. A harsh storm hit the area and they went missing. An extensive search was carried out to locate both boys, but no sign of them turned up.

That is, until a Norwegian ship discovered the boys’ marooned and deserted fishing boat less than two months ago. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission then released a lengthy report about the boys’ disappearance last month.

Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother, took legal action in an attempt to get a clearer picture on what happened to the boys. When the boat was found, the ignition and battery switch were in the off position, which some have suggested as evidence of foul play. They also want experts to look at Austin’s iPhone, including text messages, photos, and, GPS data.

(FWC)
(FWC)

The case was never classified as a criminal case, and all items recovered are considered private property. Without written consent, the items would have to be returned to the families.

The Cohens gave written consent and turned over Perry’s broken cell phone, his iPad, and laptop computer. The Stephanos family, however, did not. They wanted the iPhone examined by experts and would give data to the Cohen family and law enforcement.

The Cohens said when they got word the iPhone 6 would be given to the Stephanos family the next Monday, they were stunned.

“It’s an iPhone 6,” Korniloff told People magazine. “The data that piece of equipment can hold – I mean it’s everybody’s personal black box.”

(FWC)
(FWC)

“All we wanted was for it to remain in a sterile environment so a proper, transparent and neutral investigation could take place,” Pamela Cohen noted. “A family member getting involved in the middle of an investigation process is not a clean investigation.”

Their attorney, Guy Bennett Rubin, then filed a lawsuit on behalf of Cohen, saying Austin’s iPhone should be kept in custody of law enforcement until an analysis is completed.

“We’re all grieving. Believe me nobody understands Carly and Blu’s pain more than Pamela and I,” Korniloff added, referring to Austin’s parents.

He said: “On the other side of things, the reality is there was a window to do the right thing. That window was circumvented. The evidence left a chain of custody, a controlled environment. We then had to do what any parent would do in our position and that’s use the legal process to get it back into some kind of controlled environment hoping that it hasn’t been tainted and try to get the best experts on it and to retrieve the data.”

The phone was given to Apple, and the firm’s analysis will be submitted to the court.

“From what FWC said in the courtroom they didn’t seem particularly interested in doing a very thorough investigation on the boat, which to me as a mother of one of the missing boys that was on that boat is very troubling,” Cohen said. “I would like to think that Austin’s parents were just as troubled by that statement. It’s shocking to me.”

“We have physical evidence that is being discarded and not being looked at together, not being processed together, not letting the scientific forensic work of experts piece the story together,” Korniloff added. “It seems like the conclusion has come before all of the facts have been put together. Something doesn’t smell right.”

The Stephanos family has not responded to interview requests.

Korniloff added that after facing scrutiny over the lawsuit, “we know we did the right thing for our son.”

“We know we did the right thing for Austin and all the people that showed their love and care and concern, and honestly, for Austin’s family too,” he said. “There’s hard physical evidence here that needs to be explored. This is everything we’ve been looking for, and I do believe that this is a big message from our son, screaming to us that he wants us to know what happened. He knows it tortures us.”

According to a CNET report last week:

The Stephanos family, meanwhile, said it had been talking with Apple about getting the phone to work again. The family said it had been doing so quietly, though, because of the recent publicity surrounding Apple’s refusal to help the FBI retrieve data from a terrorist’s iPhone. That conflict, the family thought, might interfere with its efforts.

“That phone has been submerged in the sea. That phone has to be sent to Apple as soon as possible for preservation,” attorney for William Blu Stephanos, told NBC News.