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 last words the world would hear from him. His family, however, believes that his message was divinely inspired, according to a report from US News.
It all started last April when Billy Mitchell of Big River Shipbuilders noticed a green bottle bobbing up and down in the water near a barge. Mitchell, the company’s salvage diver, told USA Today, “I’m always that way. 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 pulled the bottle from the water and gently removed the message inside with the help of shish kebab skewers 30 minutes later.
The majority of the letter was destroyed, but he was able to make the name Tahl (close, it was Dahl), 1989, and 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 Big River guys shared a photo of the note on Facebook, where it was shared 127 times. Dr. Eric Dahl received a phone call a few days after the picture was posted from someone who informed him of the post. Melanie Parker Dahl later commented on the post.
“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.
Athlete Brian, who once overcame cancer, passed away at the young age of 29 following an accident at home.
“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, Melanie, and their son Chris traveled to the Vicksburg shipyard to meet the employees who discovered the bottle and to bring their son’s project home. When they discovered the note at the shipbuilders’ office, it was a difficult moment for them.
“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.”
There’s no doubt that Brian would have loved to know that his message was understood. Melanie described Brian to U.S. News as having a wonderful sense of humor. One could assume that the letter was addressed to a stranger somewhere in a distant country because he probably had no idea that his family would ever see it.
“Who would ever have imagined this would happen?” said Burnett. “I think it brings him back to life in a way.”