The mother of a teenager who went missing off the coast of Florida in 2015 is suing the family of her son's friend, accusing them of negligence that resulted in the presumed death of the two boys.
Monday, July 24, will mark two years since Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both aged 14, went missing off the coast of Florida during a fishing trip in Stephanos's boat.
On Friday, Cohen's mother Pamela filed a lawsuit in a civil court in Palm Beach against Stephanos's mother, father, stepfather, and grandfather, arguing that they failed to protect her son, who had been on a sleepover at the Stephanos house the day the pair went missing.
Guy Rubin, the attorney for Pamela Cohen, said his client just wanted to know exactly what happened.
"It’s about finding the truth and teaching lessons about parental responsibility," he told BuzzFeed News. "They desperately miss their son and not having any finality as to what happened to him hurts the most. It just leaves an open wound."
An investigative report into the boys' disappearance by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, published in June, found probable cause that Stephanos's mother, Carly Black, committed "neglect of a child" because she allowed the boys to go out on the ocean in a 19-foot boat with a single motor, no GPS or two-way radio equipment, and no adults.
“This egregious lapse in judgement and failure to exercise due care had the effect of culminating in the disappearance of both boys who are now believed to have perished in the mishap,” reads the FDLE report.
However, the assistant state attorney decided there was insufficient proof to pursue criminal charges against Black.
Long before the boys went missing, Cohen's mother had told Black that her son was not to go out on a boat without permission, and that he was not allowed to go into the ocean.
On July 24, 2015, Cohen and Stephanos decided to go fishing for dolphinfish off the coast Palm Beach County. The teenagers headed off in the morning, with the permission of Stephanos's family, who had also known that the pair had narrowly escaped a storm while fishing on a boat in the ocean the day before.
At around 1:30 p.m., an electrical storm hit the area. In the following hours, Black tried calling and texting her son, and then contacted other family members, including Stephanos's dad William, known as "Blu", who went off in his own boat to look for the boys.
The Cohens, who didn't realize their son was out on a boat or missing, were not contacted until after 4 p.m. local time. They then rang authorities.
On July 26, the capsized boat was spotted by the US Coast Guard. Five days later the search and rescue operation was called off. The teens' bodies have never been found, but the boys are presumed dead.
"Once it was clear the boys were not going to be found, there began some tension between the families," said Rubin.
He says that when police tried to access phone records and other information, the Cohens willingly helped, desperate to find out what had happened to their son.
"The other family was not being as open, transparent, and cooperative," said Rubin.
An attorney for the Stephanos family, George Harris, did not respond to a request for comment.
If any money is awarded to the Cohens from the lawsuit it will be going to charity, says Rubin.
The Perry J. Cohen Foundation was established by the Cohens in honor of their son to fund the arts, marine education, and boat safety.
Amber Jamieson is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Amber Jamieson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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