By Lulu Ramadan
Hope, if not lost, wore thin for the families of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen. And on Sunday, they announced the suspension of the search for the two teens from Tequesta.
“Today, our hope becomes our prayer — that one day Perry and Austin will be returned to us,” the families of the missing teens said in a joint statement. In the statement, they announced they had suspended the search as of sunset Saturday.
It had been 16 days since they last saw their boys, who left Jupiter Inlet to go fishing July 24. They soon became the focus of one of the most extensive searches at sea, and coastlines, in recent memory. The Coast Guard, US Navy, and individual boaters and pilots joined in.
Still, despite the massive effort, the search did not result in the happy homecoming so many here, and across the United States, who followed the efforts and developments hoped to witness.
After covering nearly 50,000 nautical miles of ocean in seven days, the Coast Guard suspended its search for the two 14-year-olds on July 31.
The family pressed on, however, aided by private donations, including one from a neighbor, NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath. They hired private boats, planes and even search dogs in hopes of turning up clues to Perry’s and Austin’s whereabouts.
But, despite having scores of volunteers searching the seas along the east coast in planes and boats, they, too, found no clues to continue going on.
The families “faced the harsh reality of no new, credible evidence or clues to guide the search,” a family spokesperson said Sunday. “Absent new information, continuing the search is not practical,” he added.
The boys were last seen refueling at Jib Yacht Club and Marina before noon on July 24. They then headed out on a 19-foot Sea Craft single-engine, center console vessel.
What happened after that remains a mystery.
Coast Guard crews recovered their capsized boat 65 nautical miles off the coast of Daytona Beach almost 48 hours later. The finding of the boat yielded a few clues — one life jacket and the revelation the engine’s cover had come off.
Friends and members of the community rallied in support of the search for Stephanos and Cohen, holding out hope that the boys would return home safely.
Hundreds of classmates and their parents gathered to pray on July 26 at Jupiter Christian School, where Stephanos was a student. More gathered the Jupiter Inlet the next day to light the sky with paper lanterns to guide the boys back home.
Since then, there have been several other vigils and fundraisers in the name of the missing Tequesta teens.
“We will never stop looking for our boys, Austin and Perry,” the families said. “We want to thank the US Coast Guard and the many volunteers from Florida to Maine whose contributions were nothing short of extraordinary.”
A GoFundMe account started by Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mom, raised nearly half a million dollars for the search effort. Several local fundraisers also raised thousands of dollars for search efforts.
That money will instead be used to start a charitable foundation in honor of the missing teens, the family said. The foundation will promote boater safety and advocate for legislative action to enhance boater safety. The focus of the charity will be on keeping teenage boaters safe, they said.
“We express a special debt of gratitude to the Palm Beach community for its generosity and outpouring of love and support,” the family said.
“We ask that you join us in our prayer that one day Perry and Austin will be reunited with their families,” the families said in their joint statement.
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