Here’s how a Florida community plans on honoring their two little boys lost at sea

TEQUESTA, Fla. Rick Golightly has never met the families of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, the two Tequesta teenagers who have been missing at sea since July 24. But Sunday morning, he headed for a friend’s plane with a pair of binoculars, a camera and two life jackets — “Just in case,” he said.

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The Jupiter resident and his wife spent Sunday afternoon flying from Palm Beach County to just south of Cape Canaveral, probing the vast ocean for any sign of missing teens.

“There were two boys were missing, and we asked ourselves ‘Is there something we can do?’” said Golightly, one of thousands of local and national strangers who have dedicated time, money and effort to the search and support.

Golightly, who lost his 38-year-old son in February, empathized with the families. And as a pilot, he immediately offered his services.

“My wife and I know what the parents are feeling like to some degree,” said Golightly, who spent two and a half hours searching Tuesday and Sunday. “We’re a part of the community and we wanted to help out in any way.”

At Jupiter Beach Park on Sunday morning, another stranger to the 14-year-olds felt inclined to help.

Craig Brown drilled a clear plastic lighthouse on top of a wooden plaque to the railing along the inlet, the site where the teens were last seen. A light at the top of the lighthouse flickered.

“Keep the light shining for Austin & Perry,” Brown lasered into the lighthouse.

He made the lighthouse Sunday morning to go with the wooden plaque with Stephanos and Cohen’s initials carved in it that he crafted Tuesday.

Despite the disheartening news that Coast Guard crews had given up searching for Stephanos and Cohen at sunset Friday, the family hasn’t given up, sending numerous private planes to search the waters. The Coast Guard searched nearly 50,000 nautical square miles from Jupiter to North Carolina before ending theeffort Friday.

The community has planned vigils, offered their planes and boats to assist in the search and donated money and resources, a phenomenon that amazes Brown.

“I’ve lived in the north end of Palm Beach County my whole life,” said Brown, a Jupiter resident. “It just really hit home for everyone. The community response has been incredible.”

It’s a story that has brought together people who don’t know each other and a community that hasn’t given up hope.

“We’re still looking because they’re still missing,” Brown said. “There hasn’t been closure.”

All along the jetty at Jupiter Beach Park, candle wax and wilted flowers line the stones, remnants of vigils held near the waters where the boys were last seen on their 19-foot vessel. Their boat was found capsized off the coast of Cape Canaveral on July 26.

Since July 27, more than 5,100 have donated to a GoFundMe account started by Pamela Cohen, Perry’s mother, totaling more than $425,000 collected as of Sunday evening.

The money will be used to rent private planes, buy fuel and hire pilots to continue the search efforts, according to the families.

Jim Madison, a flight instructor from Charleston, S.C., first heard about the missing teens on the news. Touched, he immediately set out to scope the ocean for clues Tuesday and Wednesday in a friend’s plane.

“I have three children, and I would want someone to look for them if they were missing,” he said. He and five others — who all chipped in for fuel costs — spent three hours searching off the coast of South Carolina on Wednesday and six hours Thursday, he said.

“It was just the right time and I was able to help,” Madison said.

Vicki Greist, owner of Jumby Bay Island Grill in Abacoa, hosted a fundraiser for the search efforts at her restaurant Wednesday night that raised more than $40,000. She’d never met the family before that night.

“It could have been any of our kids,” Greist said. “I can’t imagine what they’re going through right now, but the fact that we had all these people rallying around them really lifted them up.”

Elizabeth Legore, owner of Vegabound Apparel in North Palm Beach, donated 20 percent of the store’s earning Saturday to the cause and set up a donation bin, raising more than $800. All day, Legore people who have never met the families dropped in and donated anything they could.

“They were just very touched,” she said. “It could be anyone’s child and we all know that. Having that feeling of not knowing can be devastating.”

Local churches congregated Sunday morning to pray for the missing teens — a “spiritual band-aid” as guest pastor Sam Rutland of First Presbyterian Church of Tequesta described it.

“They are on our minds and in our hearts,” Rutland said. “The situation is truly tragic.”

Family and friends are planning a boat parade Monday evening to light the waters from Jupiter Inlet to Juno Beach.

According to, a site started by the families, a boat parade is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. Boats will leave from Jupiter Sand Bar, go past the Jupiter Lighthouse and head toward the Juno Pier.

Brown’s wife Kathie Carr, who has also never met the boys, has spent countless hours at the inlet during the past few days in silent reflection. She thinks people — even those that haven’t met the boys — will continue to donate money, plan vigils and search until they get answers, she said.

“Not knowing one way or another, that’s the real tragedy,” Carr said. “That’s why people can’t give up, not until we know what’s happened to them.”

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