Families of missing teen fishermen again clash over phone

AP News
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Posted: May 11, 2016 5:04 PM

JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — The parents of two teen fishermen who disappeared in a storm off Florida clashed again Wednesday after Apple said it could not retrieve any data from an iPhone discovered in the wreckage of their boat eight months after they capsized.

Blu Stephanos announced Wednesday that the iPhone belonging to his son Austin was too damaged to be fixed. Pamela Cohen, whose son Perry also vanished, doesn't want to give up yet.

Austin and his friend Perry Cohen, both 14, disappeared last July after their 19-foot boat overturned during a storm off the coast of Jupiter, Florida. A massive sea and air search never found their bodies, but a Norwegian cargo ship picked up their boat near Bermuda in March. Austin's phone was found on board, and the families hoped it would provide clues to what happened.

Other remnants of their lives are on their way home: The boat and recovered fishing gear are scheduled to arrive back in Florida on Monday aboard a cargo ship.

Meanwhile, Stephanos said in a statement that he will keep the phone as a memento of his son.

"The fact that it can no longer function as a phone doesn't diminish its value as a cherished memory of my beloved son," he wrote. "It's a small piece of him; something he used to call me at night when he needed to talk to someone, something he put his stickers on and carried with him every day. As any parent would understand, to me, it's not a broken phone, but a memory of my son that I will hold close to my heart and treasure for the rest of my life."

Perry's mother, Pamela Cohen, issued her own statement, saying she wants to work with the other boy's family to have the phone examined by more experts.

"I owe it to Perry to exhaust every possible avenue in pursuit of finding out what happened to him," wrote Cohen, who took Stephanos to court last month when he balked at having Apple examine the phone.

"According to Apple, there are other experts in the field who may be able to pick up where Apple left off, to continue the work," she wrote. "We are not giving up on the iPhone's potential for evidence until all viable efforts have been exhausted."

Austin and Perry were close friends, but rifts have appeared between their families since they disappeared. Last October, Pamela Cohen asked the other boy's parents not to use her son's name and likeness while fundraising for their new foundation. Then the wreckage was discovered, and the phone, rusted but intact.