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California attackers tried to erase digital footprint

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Friday investigators revealed the suspects had thrown two cellphones away in an effort to cover their digital tracks.

Detectives say the phones were crushed intentionally, and thrown into a trash can not far from their rental home.

Many are asking if authorities will even be able to recover information from the cellphones. News4Jax's Francesca Amiker spoke with several computer experts who say it just depends.

Computers, cellphones have brains of their own with lots of information. According to the experts we spoke with the suspects may have been able to damage the body but the brain of their cellphones could still be intact giving authorities even more info.

Officials say the digital investigation of the couple is just beginning.

"We found two cellphones in a nearby trash can. Those cellphones are actually crushed. We have to go through the  cellphones review and continue to exploit the data from the cellphones," David Bowdich, assistant director of the F.B.I. said.

News4Jax spoke with computer expert Chris Hamer who says the investigation could take days, weeks, even months depending on if the devices received cosmetic, operational, or debilitating damage. 

"If all they've done is smash the display it can be replaced. Short out the battery, as long as it hasn't damaged the actual motherboard and the key components that whole that information, depending on how much they're willing to invest in cost, time and effort, pretty much anything can be replaced," Hamer said.

The C.E.O of Security Firm Secure Ideas tells News4Jax social media has become an ingrained part of everyone's lives, so it's one of the most crucial places authorities will investigate.

 "Especially in stuff like terrorist attacks  and events and tragedies like this – you’d want to know was it involved in other people driving it encouraging it, assisting it. And that’s where its going to come out," Kevin Johnson, C.E.O of Secure Ideas said.

Johnson and Hamer agree if officials are not able to gather data from two cellphones, authorities will be able to submit requests or subpoenas to gain access to digital forums that the average user can not.

If the shooters don't have much of a social media footprint, authorities will have to go a step further and track down the forensics of any computers used.

 "We do hope that the digital fingerprints that were left by these two individuals will take us towards their motivation. That evidence is incredibly important," Bowdich said.