VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Families across Virginia and North Carolina are working to try to help find two Florida teens who have been missing for nearly a week.
14-year-old Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen have been missing nearly a week. The Coast Guard said the boys were last seen on a 19-foot boat in Jupiter, Florida Friday. Two days later, the Coast Guard found the boat capsized.
Lindy Rinaldi of Virginia Beach is one of several residents in Hampton Roads spreading a social media campaign.
“I really feel strongly that they could be found at this point. I just don’t want anybody to give up,” Rinaldi said. “As a mother, I cannot imagine what a parent is going through.”
Rinaldi, who has experience with search and rescue missions as a former Virginia Beach EMS lieutenant, used to live in Jupiter.
She and her children, who grew up with one of the missing boys’ parents, have tried to spread a social media campaign to get help from Virginia and North Carolina.
“I’ve reached out to not only WAVY, but to Okracoke and Corolla Beach and it just dominoes into something positive,” she said.
They quickly put together a vigil at the Oceanfront Wednesday night.
“[I] looked out at the ocean and imagined what it would be like to be in that ocean, as the moon came up and the sun went down. I mean, it was just harrowing- the fear that these children are going through,” Rinaldi said.
On Thursday the Coast Guard said crews conducted more than 50 search patterns covering nearly 44,000-square nautical miles, stretching up to South Carolina.
Rinaldi’s daughter, Jessica Doney, said she planned to walk the beaches of the Outer Banks this weekend, searching for any signs of the teens.
“As a mom, it’s really hard … just overwhelmed with emotions and just having such a tie to the community down there, drives me to want to help in any way I possibly can,” she said.
One Facebook page, “Find Austin & Perry,” gained more than 170,000 members in four days, according to an organizer. He said they received 30 calls Thursday from people with private planes wanting to help. The Coast Guard said it does not recommend volunteers use their own planes to search, because the agency wants people to stay safe, but asks those flying in the search to coordinate with them first.