Inside The 2015 Disappearance Of Teens Austin Stephanos And Perry Cohen

According to the American Boat Association, 4158 boating accidents occurred in 2015. On July 24 of that year, The Palm Beach Post writes that 14-year-old Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen left on a boating trip from Florida's Jupiter Inlet. They have not been seen since. Per the Daily Commercial, Stephanos and Cohen had been friends since they were 10. The two hailed from Tequesta, Florida, and shared a love for boating and fishing. On the day they left for their ill-fated trip, Cohen told his mother that they were going fishing nearby, but he told friends that he and Stephanos were going to the Bahamas (via TCPalm).

People reports that the two were last seen getting fuel for the single-engine boat. CBS 12 states that the boat belonged to Stephanos and was a gift from his grandfather. TCPalm explains that they left a local marina and made their way into the Atlantic ocean; the last message Stephanos sent to his mother was at 11:24 am. However, bad weather soon took over, and 40 mph winds and thunderstorms made boating conditions extremely hazardous (via The Palm Beach Post). Hours later, the boys hadn't contacted their parents, prompting search efforts. Ultimately, investigators theorized that the storm had caused their 19-foot boat to capsize.

Their boat was discovered months later

TCPalm states that volunteers and the Coast Guard extensively searched 50,000 square miles for Austin Stephanos, Perry Cohen, and their boat. They, however, came up empty. That said, the Sun-Sentinel writes that two days after the boys went missing, pilot Bobby Smith, who was aiding in the search effort, believed he saw their boat and a person near the Ponce De Leon Inlet. Sadly, the Coast Guard was unable to find what Smith had described. Per People, the Coast Guard decided to end the search for the boys a week after their disappearance. Nearly a year later, in April 2017, CBS 12 reported that their boat had been discovered near the Bermuda coast by a Norwegian ship.

Inside the boat was Austin's iPhone, yet there was no trace of him or Perry (via TCPalm). Although it's unclear what exactly occurred to them, the families of both boys hoped that this discovery would provide them with clues. Another article from People explains that this later caused tension between Austin and Perry's families. Perry's family, including his mother, Pamela Cohen, wanted the phone to be inspected by law enforcement. Austin's father, William "Blu" Stephanos, disagreed and noted that he wanted the phone to recover "any precious memories that it might contain." Pamela promptly filed a lawsuit over this matter. The phone was later sent to Apple, where it was unable to be restored (per WPBF).

The families are no longer on speaking terms

As TCPalm explains, the iPhone debacle was only the beginning of the battle between Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen's family. The Daily Commercial reported that shortly after the boys went missing, the Cohens told Austin's parents that they did not want any photos of the two together "in any written or electronic format." They also had separate vigils to mark the one-year anniversary of each child's disappearance. Two years after their disappearance, Pamela Cohen filed a wrongful death suit against Austin's parents, Blu Stephanos and Carlson "Carly" Black (via TC Palm).

In her suit, Pamela alleges that Austin's parents failed to protect her son. She had informed them that she did not want Perry to board the boat unless there was an adult chaperone. Per TCPalm, Pamela's attorney, Guy Rubin, stated, "When she said goodbye with a kiss and a tight hug, she never imagined she would never see him again. Pamela knew Austin's mother, Carly Black, and believed Austin's family would honor her rules and directions, and use reasonable judgment as Perry's trusted custodians."

Although there were talks that the boys may have been kidnapped (per NBC News), the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission later came to the conclusion that the weather had likely caused their boat to capsize. According to the Daily Commercial, their bodies have never been found.

No one was found liable for their deaths

Per TCPalm, Carly Black was later excluded from the wrongful death suit filed by Pamela Cohen. Nevertheless, CBS 12 states that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) investigated Black for child neglect. The boat, which she legally owned, was not equipped with a GPS or radio beacon. Additionally, Black and Blu Stephanos waited hours to tell Pamela that her son was missing. Instead of notifying her, Blu went to search for the children in his boat. In fact, the authorities were not called until Pamela was told that they were missing. Per CBS 12, the FDLE noted that this was an "egregious lapse in judgment and failure to exercise due care."

Despite this, a different article from TCPalm explains that charges were never filed against Black. In 2020, WPTV reported that a judge ruled that Blu Stephanos was not liable for Austin Stephanos' and Perry Cohen's deaths. The judge, Glenn Kelley, said that searching for the boys instead of calling 911 did not mean Blue was at fault for what had happened to them. Kelley stated that Blu "went looking for his son and for his son's companion, Perry. This simple, and understandable act, does not give rise to liability based on the undertaker doctrine." With this, Blu's attorney said that this was "a bittersweet victory considering our client also lost his son at sea."

Their legacy lives on

Per People, both families have made foundations to honor the memory of their children. The Stephanos family founded the AustinBlu Foundation, while the Cohens created the Perry J. Cohen Foundation. Both provide awareness on boating safety. In 2019, the AustinBlu Foundation reported that it had passed the Beacon Bill. This provides boaters with a 25 percent discount on their boat registration fee if they own an emergency beacon. As previously mentioned, the boat that Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen were on did not have one on board. In 2020, Carly Black told TCPalm, "Part of me is missing and always will be."

As for Perry's mother, she has gone on to say (via WFLX), "Perry was a tremendous light. He gave us so much joy, he gave us so much in the time he was with us". According to The Palm Beach Post, a mural of Perry can be seen at Jupiter Community High School. It was painted by Shepard Fairey (seen above), the artist behind former President Barack Obama's "Hope" poster. WPTV reports that Perry was accepted at the school but went missing before he could attend. The publication notes that the Perry J. Cohen foundation also founded a wetlands laboratory at the institution for children to conduct environmental research.

A statue was built in their honor

In 2021, six years after the boys went missing, The Palm Beach Post reported that Austin Stephanos' family had commissioned a statue in their honor. Per WPBF, the statue was placed near the Jupiter Inlet and features a man and a woman standing together while overlooking the water. Blu Stephanos noted that he did not feature his son or Perry Cohen in the statue because he wanted the piece to be universal for anyone who has ever lost someone at sea. "I didn't bury my son," he told The Palm Beach Post. "I have no place to go." The Stephanos family is currently working on an Austin Alert, which has been described as an Amber Alert for water. This would notify other boaters if someone nearby needs their help.

CBS 12 states that Stephanos created the bronze statue for Jupiter Beach Park specifically for the local community. He told the outlet, "This statue is really a big gratitude from us, saying thank you for lifting us up in our time of need when we were just lost, and we didn't know what to do." He also hoped it would serve as a reminder for boaters to be safe (via WPBF).