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Father of Florida Teen Missing at Sea: 'I Would Do Anything to Hold You in My Arms Again'

Father of Florida Teen Missing at Sea Speaks
Perry (left) and Phil Cohen
Phil Cohen

05/06/2016 AT 09:25 PM EDT

The father of one of the two Florida boys missing at sea since a July 24 fishing excursion holds his final communication with his son close.

"I still have his last text that I can't delete," Phil Cohen, Perry Cohen's biological father, told PEOPLE. "It says, 'I love you.' If I could talk to Perry once more, I would tell him,'I love you so much. I miss you so much. I would do anything to hold you in my arms again. I'd do anything to hear that laugh.'"

Now, Phil Cohen has entered the legal battle over the boys' disappearance and subpoenas have been served to a private firm hired to help search for 14-year-old Perry and Austin Stephanos in the days after they vanished.

On Tuesday, Phil Cohen filed a motion with the Palm Beach County Court to intervene in an action filed by ex-wife Pamela Cohen in April. Pamela Cohen's motion for emergency injunction, filed April 27, asked that an iPhone belonging to Austin and found in a latched compartment of the recently recovered boat be turned over to the court or law enforcement for forensic analysis.



In a hearing held two days later, Judge Gregory Keyser ordered that the phone, which the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission had returned to the Stephanos family earlier in the week, be sent via FedEx to manufacturer Apple, Inc. for analysis and that results be submitted to the court and sealed at the court's discretion. Phil Cohen's motion asks that he be given full access to all case information also granted to other family members.

"As the biological parent of Perry Cohen, Phil Cohen has an immediate and direct interest in the outcome of all matters pertaining to this litigation," Phil Cohen's motion reads.

The motion quoted Pamela in a recent interview, wherein she told PEOPLE, "It's an investigation of two 14-year-old boys that have vanished. All we want is the truth. It's all any mother or father would ever want."

"Phil Cohen shares these feelings and also wants the truth," the motion states.

Pamela and Phil married in May 1998, divorced in June 2006 and shared custody of Perry. Phil and Perry saw each other weekly until April 2014, when a job opportunity took Phil to San Diego where he works as director of special operations for an automotive sales and management training company.

Father of Florida Teen Missing at Sea: 'I Would Do Anything to Hold You in My Arms Again'| Crime & Courts, Real People Stories

Phil (left) and Perry Cohen

Phil Cohen

"I had hit some rough times financially," Phil told PEOPLE of his decision to move across the country. "Perry knew exactly why I was going to California, that my plan was to pursue a good opportunity, get back on my feet and come back to Florida."

On the final day together before he moved, while driving to Perry to his mother and stepfather’s Tequesta, Florida home, "I pulled over, and we were hugging and holding each other. Both of us were crying," Phil says.

Despite the distance, the two communicated daily via phone calls, texts and social media, typically sharing funny videos and sports bloopers. They had studied martial arts together when Perry was 12 and for a season, Phil coached Perry’s baseball team.

"The score was 8 to 8 with two outs. Perry was up to bat and hit a home run," Phil said when asked to share a favorite memory of his son. "As he crossed home plate, he jumped into my arms. That moment was one of the best moments of my life. I don't think I've ever felt more passion, more elation, more happiness or more pride than I did in that moment."



Phil remembers Perry as a "funny, smart young man, a lover of life, the kind of kid that would stick up for the underdog. He wanted to be and do the best at everything he got involved in."

Phil learned of Perry and Austin's disappearance via a phone call from Pamela on the evening they went missing and took the next plane back to Florida. The boys had sped out of Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean at around 11 that morning, checking in with their parents via text and posting on Snapchat and Instagram until Austin’s phone (Perry’s was broken that day) lost connection at around 1:16 in the afternoon, according to AT&T records. Shortly afterward, a storm hit and the boys haven’t been seen or heard from since.

"I don't think I could possibly accurately describe it in words," Phil said of the experience. "An insane amount of fear, an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. I remember thinking if they were lost in a field, I would stay up all day and all night, walking a grid pattern every moment until I found those boys. But with them being out on the ocean, I had no idea where to begin. In every conversation I had with the Coast Guard, I asked, 'what can I do?'"

But a sense of hope came with learning of the boat’s March 18 recovery by the crew of a Norwegian freighter 100 miles off the coast of Bermuda and talking with Captain Håvard Melvær.

"He said, 'It was like that boat wanted to be found,'" Phil recalled of the conversation. "When he said that, I knew something was going to come out of this. I felt like God had his hand on the situation and that something was going to be revealed by finding that boat."

Though, like most any divorced couple, Phil and Pamela have their differences, they agree on a few critical aspects of the case – that the FFWCC never should have allowed the iPhone to leave its chain of custody without being forensically analyzed and that the boat should be fully investigated by law enforcement and forensics specialists before being turned over to Carly Black, Austin’s mother and the boat’s legal owner.

"We're a little confused and, frankly, concerned as to where this is going from an investigative standpoint with regard to authorities," Phil Cohen’s attorney Gary Farmer told PEOPLE. "The FWC said at one time that the investigation was closed, then said they would look at the boat, but not forensically. The boat has been in the water for so long that it’s hard to tell what useful evidence or information can be pulled from the boat itself. But the phone seems to be a treasure trove of information. The boys were communicating, taking pictures of things, there could be ping records of the route they took. There is potentially a lot of information that could be gleaned from the phone. We have a hard time understanding the FWC saying that the investigation is closed when they don’t have the contents of the iPhone back yet."

FFWCC officials maintain that because the case is not classified as criminal, the boat and iPhone are considered private property that must be returned to the owners, per protocol.

"I just want information. I want to piece this together as best as I possibly can," Phil said. "I am Perry's father and I'm here and I'll do whatever it takes to find out what happened that day."

"We all have a compelling interest in pursuit of the truth and investigating every viable lead," added Guy Bennett Rubin, attorney for Pamela Cohen and Nicholas Korniloff, Perry’s stepfather.

To that end, Michael Pike, attorney for Austin's parents, Black and William Blu Stephanos, also filed a subpoena for Gainesville-based Six Maritime to produce all records, correspondence and contracts pertaining to its private search efforts, and to compel co-founder and COO Paul Robinson to appear for a June 6 deposition. Korniloff and Pamela Cohen hired the firm in the days after the boys’ disappearance after the US Coast Guard called off its search and rescue effort.
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