Mother of teen missing at sea wants son's friend's iPhone data

Parents of Perry Cohen, Austin Stephanos feud as emergency injunction filed

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The mother of one of two South Florida teenagers who disappeared at sea on a fishing trip last year wants the state attorney to force the other boy's family to turn their son's recovered cellphone over to experts in hopes that information about their disappearance can be recovered.

An attorney for Pamela Cohen filed an emergency injunction Monday against the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the parents of Austin Stephanos.

The mother of Perry Cohen issued a statement Sunday saying that the state attorney's help is needed because Austin's father, Blu Stephanos, hasn't given FWC investigators permission to search his son's iPhone, which was found last month on the 14-year-old boys' capsized boat near Bermuda.

"This is an open missing persons case, and we hope that FWC reopens their investigation and utilizes the expert resources of other government agencies, as well as the private sector, if necessary, to extrapolate the data," Pamela Cohen's statement read.

The boys disappeared last July after they left for a fishing trip off the coast of Jupiter.

A Norwegian freighter came across the capsized boat March 18 in a shipping channel near Bermuda.

The cellphone, two fishing rods and two small tackle boxes were returned to the boys' families. The boat was shipped from Norway back to Florida and is expected to arrive at Port Everglades in May.

According to the injunction, the FWC notified Cohen that it didn't intend to examine or extract data that may still be recoverable from the iPhone because its investigation is closed. The FWC also intended to give Austin's iPhone to his parents Monday because they hadn't signed a consent form allowing the state agency to keep the phone.

The injunction claims that Cohen attempted to contact Austin's parents but received no reply to telephone and email inquiries. It said that information on the phone "may provide meaningful investigative evidence regarding the whereabouts of Austin and Perry and the events leading up to and including whatever incident occurred immediately prior" to their disappearance.

Cohen believes that the information "must be collected by technology experts who have the expertise to extract such data without unnecessary risks of losing such information inadvertently," the injunction request said.

"We want transparency," Cohen family attorney Guy Rubin told reporters Monday. "We want all of this information to be known and, hopefully, it leads to some peace and closure."

The U.S. Coast Guard searched for a week and the families' volunteer search lasted more than two weeks, but the boys were never found and are presumed drowned. During its search, the Coast Guard spotted the overturned 19-foot boat near Daytona Beach, almost 200 miles from where the boys departed. It was gone by the time a recovery boat arrived at the location.

Mike Edmondson, a spokesman for Palm Beach County state attorney Dave Aronberg, declined to comment, referring all questions to the FWC and the Cohen family.

FWC spokeswoman Carol Lyn Parrish did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

Stephanos said Monday in a statement on his Facebook page that he's been working with the FWC and has the "utmost confidence in them." He also said that he's been working with the phone's manufacturer to try to get it working again.

"That would be the first order of business, since Austin's phone has been submerged in salt water for over eight months," Stephanos wrote.

Stephanos said an expert accessed the phone's iCloud backup and found that it had never been enabled.

"In light of the recent San Bernardino incident involving attempts by the FBI to retrieve data from a locked iPhone, we felt that it would be best to avoid the pressures of having these efforts played out in the media," Stephanos said. "We didn't want to do anything publicly that might jeopardize the cooperation of the manufacturer. Unfortunately, I feel that the recent publicity and wild speculation may have done just that."

This is not the first rift between the families since their sons' disappearance. Last October, Cohen asked that Austin's parents not use Perry's name and likeness while fundraising for their new foundation.

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