The mother of a Florida teen who vanished months ago on a fishing trip with a friend now suspects foul play may have been a factor, according to a lawsuit filed in connection with the case.
Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, both 14, were lost at sea while fishing off the coast of Jupiter last July. New video was released Friday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, showing the boys leaving the inlet before they went missing.
The boys were never found, although a pilot flying off the Georgia coast said he believes he saw one of the teens clinging to a pile of debris and waving his hands, according to a report released this week. By the time rescuers arrived, the person was gone.
The teens' boat was recovered near Bermuda almost eight months later, along with Stephanos' iPhone, which the families hope will provide valuable insight into what went wrong.
Stephanos' father, William Blu Stephanos, said earlier this week he was working with the phone's manufacturer and an IT professional to retrieve information from the waterlogged device.
The phone, however, has become a source of contention, with Cohen's mother filing suit Monday when the FWC agreed to relinquish the device to Blu Stephanos.
According to the suit, the FWC notified Pamela Cohen on April 22 "it did not intend to professionally examine the iPhone or extract the data" because the case was closed.
Pamela Cohen has said the teens shared Austin Stephanos' phone because her son's was broken. The suit claims she "will continue to suffer irreparable harm if the iPhone is not properly handled as material evidence in a possible maritime crime or homicide."
An investigative file dated Feb. 8 reveals the FBI has been involved in the case since September, when Austin Stephanos' stepfather told officials he believed the boys may have been abducted, NBC News reported. State investigators subpoenaed phone records in December as part of "an official investigation of a suspected felony," according to the document.
FWC spokesman Rob Klepper declined to comment Friday on the Cohen family's suspicion of foul play. He said the agency would not be issuing any additional statements on the case.
In a statement Tuesday, Pamela Cohen said she would withdraw her lawsuit if the Stephanos family submitted the phone for an independent forensics examination.
"We will be withdrawing our lawsuit as soon as FWC receives the written consents it needs from both families to put the iPhone in the hands of the best impartial iPhone extraction experts available, in a proper legal chain of custody," Pamela Cohen said in the statement.
During a hearing on the suit Friday afternoon, Pamela Cohen asked that the device be turned over to a third-party examiner.
"The public has a right to know what happened to the boys, and what led up to the point of their disappearance," the lawsuit states.
A judge said the phone will be shipped to Apple for forensic examination.
"We're highly disappointed that the FWC turned the phone over to Mr. Stephanos, but we're pleased the judge ordered the phone be sent for thorough, transparent and truthful investigation for both families," Pamela Cohen expressed.
FWC officials previously said there was no criminal element to the case.