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Judge orders iPhone linked to missing teen boaters to be sent to Apple

Phone found on capsized boat at center of dispute between families

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – The families of two missing teenage boaters from South Florida have agreed to allow Apple to analyze an iPhone recovered eight months after their disappearance.

A compromise was reached Friday between the families of Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, the 14-year-old boys who disappeared last July during a fishing trip off the coast of Jupiter.

The phone is the subject of a lawsuit filed by Perry's mother, Pamela Cohen, against the Stephanos family and the state agency assigned to investigate the disappearance.

"I think we accomplished what we wanted to accomplish today," Blu Stephanos told reporters outside the Palm Beach County courthouse in West Palm Beach. "The biggest thing was I wanted this phone going to Apple in the beginning."

An emergency hearing was held Friday after Cohen sought to prevent the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission from releasing her son's friend's phone to his parents.

Palm Beach County Judge Gregory Keyser ordered that the iPhone 6 be shipped overnight to Apple. Any data retrieved from the phone will be provided to the court.

"We are very pleased that the judge has ordered that the phone be sent someplace for a thorough, transparent and truthful investigation," Cohen told reporters.

Austin's phone was found when a Norwegian freighter recovered the boys' capsized boat last month near Bermuda.

The cellphone, two fishing rods and two small tackle boxes were returned to the boys' families.

Cohen filed a lawsuit after learning that the FWC had released the phone to Austin's parents.

Because Perry's phone was broken, his mother had been texting him using Austin's phone. According to an emergency motion filed Wednesday, the FWC "wrongfully released" the phone to Austin's parents without notifying Cohen, who wanted it to undergo forensic analysis.

The court document refers to the iPhone as Cohen's "only hope she has to find out what happened to (her son)."

Keyser ultimately decided that the iPhone be examined by its maker.

"The Stephanos family should have done this voluntarily, but the judge obviously saw it our way," Cohen family attorney Guy Rubin said.

Stephanos said Monday in a statement on his Facebook page that he's been working with the FWC and 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.