Dad of Florida teen lost at sea will share phone data

Perry Cohen, left, and Austin Stephanos. Photos via the U.S. Coast Guard.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The father of a Florida teen who went missing at sea while on a fishing trip with a friend said Monday he will share whatever information is found on his son’s recovered cellphone with the other boy’s family and law enforcement.

Blu Stephanos issued a statement to the Palm Beach Post saying that the phone belonging to his son Austin Stephanos has salt water damage, so he doubts information can be retrieved, “but I am not giving up hope.”

He said he would share any information received with law enforcement and the family of Perry Cohen. The 14-year-olds went missing last July when their boat capsized off the Florida coast during a severe storm. Their bodies were never recovered, but a Norwegian cargo ship spotted their 19-foot boat near Bermuda last month and recovered it. Onboard were the phone and some fishing gear.

The statement came one day after Cohen’s parents filed for a restraining order, asking a judge to ban the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from giving the phone to the Stephanos family before it can be examined by law enforcement. The FWC is the lead agency handling the investigation and has the phone.

That hearing is pending, said Guy Rubin, the Cohen family’s attorney. He said his clients have had no formal communication with the Stephanos family about the phone, so “I am not sure what their intentions are.”

FWC spokesman Rob Klepper issued a statement Monday saying that since this is not a criminal investigation the agency would turn over the phone and other items to the respective families. Any retrieval of information from Austin Stephanos’ phone would only be done with his family’s permission, Klepper said.

The cellphone, two fishing rods and two small tackle boxes were recovered from the boat. The phone was shipped ahead to FWC, but the boat and other personal effects were crated and are expected to arrive at Port Everglades next month.

Robert Heller, a digital forensics expert in Texas, said the phone could contain the boat’s location, its speed, its direction, distress text messages the boys tried to send, photos they took and other information, assuming it wasn’t damaged beyond repair. Even if FWC turns over the phone to the Stephanos family, Heller suspects investigators will download its data for safekeeping, if it is accessible.

“If they didn’t make a forensic record, then shame on them,” he said.

The Coast Guard searched for a week and the families’ volunteer search lasted more than two weeks. During its search, the Coast Guard did spot the overturned boat near Daytona Beach, almost 200 miles from where the boys departed but it was gone when a recovery boat arrived at the location.

This is not the first rift to appear between the families since their sons disappeared. Last October, Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother, asked that Stephanos’ parents not use her son’s name and likeness while fundraising for their new foundation.

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