The families of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, two 14-year-olds who went missing off the coast of Florida in late July, announced Sunday they had called off their private search for the boys. Continuing to extend the sweep for Austin and Perry wasn't practical without new information, the families wrote in a news release.
"We love our boys and want them home," they said. "Today, our hope becomes our prayer -- that one day Perry and Austin will be returned to us. We thank everyone for their dedicated efforts and support."
Austin and Perry set out July 24 on a fishing trip to a spot on the nearby Loxahatchee River and Intracoastal Waterway, though they'd bragged to friends about heading for the Bahamas, CBS News reported. The boys were seen at a marina at 1:30 p.m., but when a storm rolled through that afternoon, their parents couldn't reach them by cell phone. The Coast Guard launched a search that night.
Their 19-foot boat was found east of Daytona Beach two days later with no sign of Austin and Perry. When a tow company later went to retrieve the boat, it was gone. Two life jackets and a boat cushion were found near Savannah, Georgia, but they couldn't be definitively connected to the missing teenagers, the Fort Pierce Tribune reported.
The case attracted the attention of several national news outlets, Nascar drivers Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, and the boys' neighbor, NFL legend Joe Namath. Namath offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to their rescue.
But after checking about 50,000 nautical square miles, the Coast Guard called off its search July 31 -- an "excruciating and gut-wrenching" decision, Capt. Mark Fedor said.
Both boys had grown up around the water and completed a boating safety course, so their families remained hopeful. A crowdfunding campaign for the boys raised nearly $480,000, and they used the money to pay for a private search that ran through Saturday.
The families intend to form a youth boating education charity in Austin and Perry's memory, WPTV reported.