Florida teens lost at sea planned to go to Bahamas

Messages, testimony from family, friends indicate missing boys' intentions

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor
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WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - One of two Jupiter teenagers, who disappeared during a fishing trip in the summer of 2015, told a friend on the eve of their fateful journey that they planned to go to the Bahamas, according to a court document obtained Thursday by News 6 partner WPLG-TV.

"Me and Austin r (sic) crossing to the Bahamas tomorrow come with us," Perry Cohen wrote in a private Instagram message to his friend on July 23, 2015. "We wouldn't check in."

Cohen and Austin Stephanos, both 14, left Jupiter the next day. They never returned.

Stephanos' last social media post from his Snapchat account on the day the boys left on the boat showed a picture of fishing poles on a boat and a message saying, "Peace Out Jup."

Another friend of the boys later revealed to investigators that "usually when we all say peace out Jup, we mean going to the Bahamas."

The revelations are part of a December court filing in the civil lawsuit over Stephanos' recovered cellphone, which was found nearly eight months after the boys disappeared.

Their boat and life vests were eventually found, but the boys were never seen again.

A Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission report said a "weather-related incident" was to blame for the boys' disappearance.

However, the Instagram message and other sworn testimony, including that of Stephanos' grandfather, indicated that the teens planned to skirt customs officials to get to the Bahamas.

Another friend of Stephanos told investigators that he spoke to her about going to the Bahamas the day before, "but Austin said it was too rough."

The girlfriend of a Stephanos family member gave a sworn statement to FWC investigators that she believed "the boys intended to take the boat out quite a distance." She said she had seen them with two extra gas cans before they left.

In his sworn testimony, Stephanos' grandfather, Richard Kuntz, told investigators that he gave Stephanos $100 in gas money for the boys' upcoming fishing trip.

"And that's why when they started taking about going to the Bahamas, ya (sic) didn't, he was just there, he knows you need a passport, he didn't have any money, and he knows, two engines to go, minimum, or two boats, never by yourself with one engine and one battery," Kuntz said. "The one battery, he wouldn't think about, but one engine, he would, and 40 gallons of gas, no."

Cohen's stepfather, Nick Korniloff, told investigators that Cohen asked to borrow his boat's GPS the night before the boys left.

Korniloff said Cohen told him that he wanted to use the GPS, because Stephanos wanted to buy one.

"And I said, 'What are you going to do with it? You guys fishing or what are you going to do with it? Besides that, how are you going to hook it up? No mount. No wire,'" Korniloff said. "Perry said no, he has some wires there, he really wants to try, and I go, 'Perry, it's not going to work. But, if (you) need to satisfy your curiosity, go ahead.'"

The document was filed on behalf of the Cohen family to obtain all relevant information "in an effort to understand what happened leading to the disappearance" of the boys. 

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