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Family overjoyed to find message in a bottle written by their late son 33 years ago

"I think it brings him back to life in a way."

message in bottle, eric dahl, big river shipbuilders
via Pixabay

A message in a bottle.

In 1989, 11-year-old Brian Dahl had no idea that a message in a bottle he cast out to sea near Oxford, Mississippi, would one day be the final words the world would hear from him. But according to a report from U.S. News, his family believes that his message was heaven-sent.

It all began last April when Billy Mitchell of Big River Shipbuilders saw a green bottle bobbing up and down in the water near a barge. "I'm always that way," Mitchell, the salvage diver with the company, told USA Today. "I always look for stuff that's unique—driftwood or anything ... I told my buddy, I said, 'there's a message in this bottle!'"

Mitchell grabbed the bottle out of the ocean and 30 minutes later gently removed the message inside with the help of shish kebab skewers.


Most of the letter was destroyed but he was able to make the name Tahl (close, it was Dahl), the year 1989 and the location of Oxford, Mississippi, all in a child’s handwriting.

“My first instinct was let’s play detective. Let’s do this and find this kid,” Brad Brabb, a compliance officer with Big River, told U.S. News.

The guys from Big River posted a photo of the note on Facebook where it was shared 127 times. A few days after the picture was posted, Dr. Eric Dahl received a phone call from someone who told him about the post. Melanie Parker Dahl then left a comment on the post.

via Big River Shipbuilders/Facebook

“It’s astounding it happened,” Eric said. “We get a message 33 years after Brian put it in the river. It’s like something in a fictitious novel or something you’d see on TV,” Eric continued. “To see Brian’s handwriting from when he was 11 or 12 years old — it was miraculous.

Brian was an athlete who beat cancer at one point in his life but died after an accident at home at the young age of 29.

“It was a gift from on high. We’re a praying family and this is a part of God’s providence,” Eric said.

The message in a bottle was part of a sixth grade project.

"We had a field trip,” his sixth grade teacher, Martha Burnett, now 82, told USA Today. We dropped our bottles in the water, and for many years we heard nothing," said Burnett from her home in Oxford, Mississippi. The bottle floated 200 miles to the Yazoo River in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Eric, his wife Melanie and their son Chris made a trip to the shipyard in Vicksburg to meet the workers who found the bottle and to take their son's project home. It was an emotional moment for them to see the note at the shipbuilders' office.

"One thing that jumps out at me is an 11-year-old boy saying 'please'," Eric said after seeing the note. "Knowing that something he wrote is connecting strangers, that really helps."

Melanie told U.S. News that Brian had a wonderful sense of humor, so there’s no doubt he would have loved to know that his message was received. He probably had no idea that his family would ever see it so one could assume that the letter was directed to a stranger somewhere in a far-off land.

"Who would ever have imagined this would happen?" said Burnett. "I think it brings him back to life in a way."

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Most of us grow up not really understanding what a mortgage is until we buy our first house, but even then, most of us don't know what the word literally means. It comes from Old French, mort gaige, literally meaning "death pledge."

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Isn't English fun?