When Eric and Melanie Dahl saw a social media post from Billy Mitchell of Big River Shipbuilders, they couldn’t believe their eyes.
The company found a bottle, and what was inside was too amazing even to consider.
Billy Mitchell Of Big River Shipbuilders
Billy Mitchell of Big River Shipbuilders was working along the Yazoo River Diversion Canal when he stumbled upon something floating in the water.
It was bobbing up and down next to one of the barges.
A Green Bottle
Interested in what the object was, Billy went to retrieve the item, having no idea something amazing was about to happen.
The object was nothing more than a green bottle.
Billy Has Always Been Interested In Unique Items
During an interview with US News, Billy explained that unique items have always fascinated him.
He said, “I’m always that way. I always look for stuff that’s unique—driftwood or anything.”
A Message In A Bottle
Billy didn’t think anything of the bottle until he pulled it out of the water. Peering inside, he noticed something strange.
There appeared to be a letter! Billy would soon learn that bottle traveled quite the distance to Vicksburg.
30 Minutes And A Pair Of Shish Kebab Skewers
The letter caught Billy’s eye, and he was determined to, somehow, get it out of the confined space.
Using a pair of shish kebab skewers, Billy spent 30 minutes jimmying the letter out of the bottle.
A Weathered Piece Of Paper With A Child’s Handwriting
While time, moisture, and the harrowing journey the bottle must have had resulted in a weathered piece of paper, some of the words were still legible.
What really surprised Billy, though, was the handwriting was definitely that of a child’s.
What Were The Odds?
During an interview with US News, Billy said, “I was shocked and excited.”
“You hear about messages in a bottle, but I never thought I’d find one in the canal over here.”
They Wanted To Find The Child
Billy and his co-workers were doing nothing more than salvaging sunken ships in the canal when they found the bottle.
Now, they were dead set on finding the child who wrote the letter.
Time To Play Detective
Brad Babb, safety and compliance officer of Big River Shipbuilders, spoke to US News, saying, “When they walked in with it, they were so excited that I got excited, too.”
“My first instinct was let’s play detective. Let’s do this and find this kid.”
First Step: Put The Letter Back Together
Brad and Billy first wanted to try and put the pieces of the weathered letter together to see if they could make out a name.
Sadly, the paper was too tattered.
Step Two: Call Some Schools
The good news is they could make out a town and a date. It appeared that the message in the bottle came from Oxford, Mississippi, in 1989, as part of a school project.
So, Brad went ahead and began calling schools in the area.
Step Three: To Social Media!
Calling schools in the Oxford area led to nothing more than dead ends. It’s been years since the project, after all.
So, they did what most people who wanted answers in 2022 did — they went to social media.
Time To Bring Dr. Eric Dahl Into The Story
Dr. Eric Dahl was sitting in church when he received a phone call. Typically, he wouldn’t have answered, let alone have his phone on during a service.
He was on call with the hospital that day, though, so he answered.
A Friend Told Him About The Post
One of Eric’s friends was on the other line and let him know that he stumbled across something on social media, something he would be very interested in.
Eric listened to what his friend had to say and couldn’t believe his ears.
“This Was My Son!”
Not long after Eric heard the news, his wife, Melanie, found the post and commented, “This was my son!”
As it turns out, Eric and Melanie’s son, Brian, was the child from 1989!
33 Years And 295 Miles Later
Traveling for over 33 years and 295 river miles through the Mississippi Delta, the bottle finally made its way back to the Dahl family.
Sadly, Brian was not there to enjoy the reunion.
A Gift From On High
While Brian fought and beat cancer, he passed away in an accident when he was 29 years old. So, the letter for his parents was a “gift from on high.”
According to Eric, “We’re a praying family, and this is a part of God’s providence.”
Brian Was 11 At The Time He Wrote The Letter
Brian was 11 years old when he wrote the letter, put it in the bottle, and dropped it into the river for a class project when he was in sixth grade.
It was a miracle it came back to his family after 33 years.
During an interview with US News, Eric said, “It’s astounding it happened.”
“We get a message 33 years after Brian put it in the river.” What were the odds it would be found?
Like Something Out Of A Book
“It’s like something in a fictitious novel or something you’d see on TV,” Eric said during an interview with US News.
“To see Brian’s handwriting from when he was 11 or 12 years old — it was miraculous.”
Eric And Melanie Traveled To The Message In A Bottle
Eric and Melanie decided to travel to Big River Shipbuilders to meet Billy and Brad and to pick up their son’s sixth-grade school project.
“It was just kind of incredible to me that could happen,” Melanie said.
Melanie Doesn’t Really Remember The Project
The thing is, Melanie only vaguely remembers the school project from so many years ago.
“I didn’t remember the whole project, so it was a surprise,” she said. “The fact it was my son who wrote that 33 years ago — what are the odds of that bottle being found?”
Martha Burnett, Brian’s Former Teacher
Brian’s former teacher, Martha Burnett, remembers everything, though! It began with a story about how people used to put messages in bottles and toss them into water.
It then turned into a class project.
A Story Turned Class Project
It was actually the beginning of the year,” Burnett said. “It was one of the early stories in our reading book.”
“The story had to do with the fact that over time people had put messages in bottles. We decided to do that. We decided it was a class project.”
Brian’s And One Other Bottle Have Been Found
The project: each student wrote a letter, adding their names, phone numbers, and addresses. Then, they went to Sardis Lake and threw the sealed bottles into the Little Tallahatchie River.
Only one other bottle has been found.
Nothing But Nice Things To Say About Brian
During an interview with US News, Brian’s teacher spoke highly of him, saying, “Brian was a very promising young man.”
“Even in the sixth grade, it was obvious. It is an amazing story of an outstanding young man.”
A Road Trip And Tears
Eric and Melanie made their way to meet with Brad and Billy and retrieve their son’s long-lost class project.
Needless to say, there were a lot of tears during the meeting.
It Was A Lovely Talk
Brad said, “I spent 30 to 45 minutes talking to the dad, and I probably cried three times.”
“He said over and over his son was his best friend. For a dad who’s lost a child and being able to give that back to him, that means so much more than words can describe. We’re a small family business, and we all have kids. We can all sympathize.”
Billy Couldn’t Believe They Found The Parents
When Brad told Billy he found the parents of the child who wrote the letter; he couldn’t believe it.
“Once he found the parents, Brad called me in tears, and I was in tears,” Billy said. “When Brad told me he’d passed away, it sent chill bumps down my spine. It really did.”
An Instant Family
Eric and Melanie went to meet the men, and, according to the doctor, there was an instant connection.
“Something profound has happened that brought us together, so we wanted to do it in person,” Eric said. “They were like instant family. To see something connect people instantly is a beautiful thing; it was typical of Brian to bring people together. It’s a testament to who he is and was.”