Details of Disappearance
Austin was last seen on July 24, 2015. He left with his friend Perry Cohen
from Austin's house that morning in Austin's 19-foot, single-engine Seacraft boat for a fishing trip. Both boys were very experienced at fishing and boating. Austin had been driving boats since he was ten, and was also capable of making minor engine repairs. According to his father, he was allowed to drive only a few miles offshore on calm days.
The boys texted their parents at 11:00 a.m., and bought more than $100 worth of fuel at a marina in Jupiter, Florida at 1:30 p.m. They were using Snapchat on their phones that afternoon. Their last last message read, "we're f**ked."
Within a few hours of them leaving the Jupiter marina, Austin and Perry were hit by a storm with up to 40-mile-per-hour winds. They never returned home. Their parents reported them missing at 5:00 p.m., and the Coast Guard began a search.
On July 26, Austin and Perry's boat was sighted from the air, about 65 milers off the coast of Daytona Beach. The boat was not recovered at that time; it was gone by the time crews came out to get it. It was sighted again in September, 160 miles off the coast, and again it could not be recovered.
The boat was finally recovered in March 2017, off the coast of Bermuda. A Norwegian transport ship recovered it and delivered it to a Florida port. The battery switch, which is difficult to reach and almost impossible to switch off by accident, was switched off. The key was in the ignition and in the off position.
Authorities found Austin's iPhone and fishing gear on board the boat, but some other items, including a white Yeti cooler and some life jackets, were missing. The phone was badly damaged from months of exposure to the seawater. Austin's father initially didn't want police to examine it, but he eventually relented. Authorities were unable to get any data off of it.
The state of Florida opened an investigation into Austin's family for possible child neglect. In June 2017, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement ruled that there was probable cause to charge Austin's stepfather, Richard "Bubba" Black, with child neglect because his "egregious lapse in judgment" led to the boys' disappearance. A prosecutor did not file any charges, however.
Although Perry and Austin's mothers were once good friends, after the boys disappeared the families fell into conflict with each other. Perry was not allowed to go fishing without an adult present, something Austin's family was aware of. In the summer of 2017, two years after the boys' disappearance, Perry's mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Austin's parents his stepfather, and his grandfather, alleging that their negligence led to Perry's death.
The boys' bodies have never been found, but both are presumed lost at sea.