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Families of teens lost at sea fight over recovered iPhone

One family worries that critical evidence about the boys' fate may be lost if the phone leaves law enforcement hands.

AustinBlu Foundation

Clues to the fate of two teens who went missing at sea last summer may be held by an iPhone that's now the center of a legal battle between the boys' families.

Perry Cohen and Austin Stephanos were lost in the sea off Florida around July 24, but the phone was recovered last month along with their boat off the coast of Bermuda. Concern that the iPhone "may provide meaningful investigative evidence regarding the whereabouts of Austin and Perry" has led the Cohen family to request a preliminary injunction barring state investigators from turning over the phone to the Stephanos family, according to the Sun-Sentinel newspaper.

Pamela Cohen, the mother of Perry Cohen, worried in the complaint that if the iPhone leaves the custody of law enforcement officials, "critical data and other information that may be retrievable...will be lost forever."

Concern was heightened over the weekend when the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it would turn over the phone to the Stephanos family because it was not a criminal case.

Blu Stephanos, Austin's father, said in a Facebook post that the family was working with Apple to retrieve the phone's contents. Noting the legal conflict between Apple and the FBI over an iPhone used by one of the San Bernardino shooters, Blu Stephanos said he worried that media pressure might jeopardize that cooperation.

"We didn't want to do anything publicly that might jeopardize the cooperation of the manufacturer," Blu Stephanos wrote. "Unfortunately, I feel that the recent publicity and wild speculation may have done just that."

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.