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Apple agrees to examine cellphone Florida teens used before going missing

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14-year-olds Austin Stephanos (L) and Perry Cohen are showing in this handout provided by the United States Coast Guard in Miami, Florida, on July 26, 2015. (Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters)

A recovered cellphone at the center of a dispute between the families of two Florida teens who went missing during a fishing trip will be examined by its manufacturer, Apple Inc, in an agreement hammered out during a hearing on Friday, according to a local media report.

If Apple is able to retrieve anything from the water-damaged phone that is pertinent to the day the boys disappeared – including photos, texts and social media posts – the data will be given to a judge, who will decide if it is evidence and whether it may be shared with the families, according to a report by WPLG television in Miami.

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The agreement puts to rest – for now – a row between the families of Austin Stephanos, 14, who owned the iPhone 6 model cellphone, and his friend Perry Cohen, also 14, who had borrowed it to communicate with his family the day they disappeared in July 2015 off the Atlantic Coast of South Florida, according to the report.

The phone was recovered in March when the boys’ abandoned boat was discovered by a Norwegian crew near the Bahamas, WPLG reported.

The phone was inside a locked box and was heavily water damaged, the report said.

Cohen’s family wanted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to treat the phone as evidence in an open missing persons case, but the agency instead returned it to Stephanos’ family, the station reported.

Cohen’s mother, Pamela Cohen, sued Stephanos’ family to have the phone returned to the state and allow her access to the phone’s contents, the report said.

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In an emergency hearing on Friday, the two sides agreed to turn over the iPhone to Apple and let the judge decide what to do with any data the company is able to retrieve, the station reported.

The two boys, neighbors and fishing buddies in their Palm Beach County hometown, were last seen July 24, 2015, buying gasoline for their 19-foot, single-engine vessel before launching in Jupiter, Florida.

Phone records indicate the phone went offline shortly after 1 p.m. local time and never came back on, the station reported.

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(Reporting by Karen Brooks in Fort Worth, Texas, editing by G Crosse)


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