When Billy went to work, he had no reason to suspect it would be a day unlike any other. By clock-out time, he had made a life-changing discovery that would alter his life forever. This is his story.
The Very Beginning
April 6, 2022, Billy Mitchell headed to his job at Big River Shipbuilders and began to conduct his regular tasks. He'd been working there for a while, so he knew the drill. Or so he thought...
Big River Shipbuilders is located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and they repair, maintain, and construct boats. "Family owned and operated since 1988, Big River Shipbuilders, Inc. has been involved in the maritime industry," they describe themselves on their Facebook page.
A Glimmer In The Water
On this infamous April day, Billy was tasked with a project located on the Mississippi side of the Yazoo River. Along with his coworkers, they began to rescue sunken floats, which are essentially small barges. All of them believed it would be a typical, average day.
While busy with one of his regular tasks, Billy caught a glimmer from the corner of his eye. Turning to see what had distracted him, he noticed something unusual shining in the water. There was an object floating along the canal, resting on one of the barges.
As the barge was lifted, Billy reached out for the peculiar item and began to examine it. While it was clearly green, the object's identity remained unclear at this point. After closer inspection, he understood it was a bottle. Just as he was about to toss it to the side, he noticed there was something inside...
Now he was more interested than ever. Previously believing it was just someone's trash, he was less invested - but this new discovery held fascinating potential. Looking around at his busy team, who hadn't even noticed him pausing, he knew he'd need to deal with this alone.
Continuing to inspect the glass bottle, its wear and tear signaled that it had been traveling in the water for a significant amount of time. Months, even years, he assumed when he saw the damage clearly done by the water and sun's heat. So, what was that placed inside?
Bringing the bottle even closer, he looked through the glass to examine its contents. It was a piece of paper, wet from the river's waters which had filled the bottle. Carefully, he placed his fingers inside, trying to pull the note out without ripping it. It was incredibly delicate, but eventually, he did it.
A Penned Note
Billy had been extra cautious when extracting the paper. He could tell it was already fragile material, and the extent of the water damage could not be known. Very slowly, he unfolded it and laid it out in front of him. He was shocked to discover it was a handwritten letter.
This wrinkly piece of paper has been severely ruined by the water, so much so that the contents of the letter were illegible from the smudging. The water had also weakened the paper, causing it to be brittle and tear apart. A few words could be read on each little piece, but nothing coherent.
Just Like The Movies
Billy's heart was now racing at full speed. This discovery was now even more exciting than he had initially thought. Of course, he had so many questions he wanted answers to and had no idea how to get them. Most of all, he wanted to know who had written it and to who.
"I was shocked and excited," Mitchell later reflected on this momentous discovery. "You hear about messages in a bottle, but I never thought I'd find one in the canal over here." For Billy, who had woken up expecting to live through a pretty uneventful day, his life now felt like the movies.
Telling The Others
Billy could no longer keep it to himself. Deciding it was time to let his coworkers in on the adventure, he carefully pushed the note back inside the bottle and rushed over to the main office. He knew they would be a big help and that together they could uncover the mystery of the letter.
After Billy caught them up on the events until now, the team was immediately excited about what they had heard, rushing to help Billy decipher the message. The wet, dismantled letter was difficult to understand and piece together; there were even some parts missing!
Tracing Its Roots
However, these missing details were not enough to put the team off. On the contrary, the challenge motivated them more, persevering until they had something to work with. After just a few minutes, they had understood something. A child from Oxford, Mississippi, had written the note.
As far as they had understood, the letter had been written as part of a class project in 1989. They cleverly determined that the letter had been placed into Sardis Lake, around 295 miles from their worksite. With this information, they believed they could track down the author. They couldn't wait to get started.
Locating The Author
Before the official investigation could begin, there were some company protocols that needed to be followed. Brad Babb, the safety and compliance officer, needed to be told about the bottle. Thankfully, he was just as excited as the rest of the workers, and he wanted in on the adventure!
Working with his local contacts, Babb was able to get hold of numerous schools in Oxford. He asked them to connect him with any teachers or principals that might be able to identify the author from the handwriting. Everyone was taken back by the remarkable story - but no one could help.
After all these dead ends, things needed to be taken up a notch. After discussing the fastest and most effective way of spreading the word and finding the bottle's owner, they settled on social media. Billy took to the Big River Shipbuilders Facebook page, which had 1,216 followers at the time of posting.
The company's Facebook page is usually filled with updates on new projects and services being offered. Their loyal followers love to know about everything going on at the shipbuilder site. Would they be as interested in this green glass bottle story? There was only one way to find out...
Spreading The Word
"Today, our Salvage crew found a bottle with the following message inside. Time has not been kind to the letter. We believe this was done by an Oxford, MS student with the last name of Tahl back in 1989. We would love to let that person know we found it. Please spread the word and help us find this person," they wrote.
Alongside this post, the team uploaded a photo of the loose, blotched pieces of the letter. As expected, all their followers were intrigued by this news, and they were just as excited as the BRS workers to find out the story behind the green bottle.
A Viral Hit
Within days, the original post had been shared by 125 Facebook users, with the story gaining much attention across the internet. People beyond the BRS Facebook page were now getting involved, all wanting to help the Big River crew find the bottle's owner.
The avid Facebook users knew there was only one way to spread the story fast - by liking and sharing. Seeing these numbers, the workers were more hopeful than ever before. They'd seen how far viral stories like theirs could go, and they prayed, in their case, they would be led straight to the letter's author.
A Hopeful Lead?
As the days went on, the post continued to receive attention. The comments, likes, and shares were adding up, and momentum seemed to be building. That being said, they had yet to receive any promising leads that would take them right to the letter's source. They started to worry the mystery would never be solved.
While they anxiously waited for some hopeful updates, the team kept busy on the shipbuilding site. It all soon proved worthwhile when someone named Evan Michele left an encouraging comment on the post. Would this person be the one to answer all their questions?
Whenever a worker would have a spare minute, they would sit down by the computer and refresh the page. This time, when one employee did the routine Facebook check-up, he was excited to see what popped up. There was a comment there that looked promising.
“Check your messages. I think I’ve figured it out. Just didn’t want to publicly publish personal information online,” the comment said. Digging deeper, it seemed this person was indeed onto something. Quickly and without hesitation, they rushed to the phone. There was someone they needed to call...
An Unexpected Call
Dr. Eric Dahl was at his local church in Oxford, Mississippi, when his phone began to ring. He had a strict rule with himself not to answer the phone when at church, but when he glanced down at the number on the screen, something inside him told him to answer.
The doctor was on call that evening, so he couldn't risk missing crucial information from the hospital. With this in mind, Eric reluctantly picked up, expecting he would need to leave the church immediately. As he began to listen to the person on the other end of the phone, he couldn't believe he'd nearly ignored the call.
The mysterious caller identified himself as a boat construction worker in Oxford, Mississippi. They informed the doctor that they had found a glass bottle in the Mississippi River with a handwritten letter inside. It was written in 1989 by a student with the last name 'Tahl.' Upon hearing this last part, Eric gasped.
His eyes filled with tears - he had never imagined he would be reconnected with his son after so many years apart. Once Babb had finished telling his story, he was met by moments of awkward silence. Just as he began to worry he had offended the doctor somehow, he heard Eric's soft sobs in the background.
The School Project
Brian and Melanie had given birth to their firstborn son, Brian Dahl, in 1977. As part of Brian's sixth-grade class at Oxford University school, he and his classmates took part in an exciting class project organized by the teacher. They wrote their names and messages on paper and put them inside glass bottles.
The children then sealed the bottles tight with wax and threw them into the Mississippi River. When later asked about the project's purpose, the teacher explained that she was demonstrating to the students how the bottles would travel from the Delta River into the Mississippi River.
All From Above
Unfortunately, there is a tragic component to this story we have yet to mention. After growing into a kind and generous adult, Brian passed away just a few years before his class project contribution had been discovered. Understandably, Eric and Melanie were utterly devastated over losing their child.
This news brought comfort to the bereaved parents as it helped them to feel a little closer to their son. Eric could not shake the fact that had he ignored the call as planned, he would have never known this story. In his eyes, the entire sequence of events had been orchestrated by God.
A True Miracle
"It's like something in a fictitious novel or something you'd see on TV," Eric exclaimed. "To see Brian's handwriting from when he was 11 or 12 years old - it was miraculous. It was a gift from on high. We're a praying family, and this is a part of God's providence."
Eric's wife and Brian's mother, Melanie, also reflected on the emotional experience. "It was just kind of incredible to me that could happen. I didn't remember the whole project, so it was a surprise. The fact it was my son who wrote that 33 years ago - what are the odds of that bottle being found?"
"He Was Really Funny"
Melanie also took the time to tell people about Brian and his bubbly and hilarious personality. "He was really funny," she gushed. "He had a very quick wit." With this in mind, she noted that Brian would have found this entire incident highly comical.
Melanie and Eric Dahl firmly believed that Brian was in heaven, looking down on the friends and family he's left behind. They laughed at the thought of Brian watching all these people reading his letter. "If that's true, he's getting a really big kick out of this," Melanie jokingly added.
Now the full story of the green bottle and the handwritten letter had been revealed, Brad Babb, who had published the initial Facebook post, was still in disbelief. "I spent 30 to 45 minutes talking to the dad, and I probably cried three times," he wrote on the company's social media page.
"He said over and over, his son was his best friend," Brad continued. "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."
Pulls At The Heart
As the story continued to spread, news outlets got their hands on it, sending their reporters off to gather more intel. One group of investigators was able to make contact with Brian's teacher, Martha Burnett, who had taken the class that day to drop their bottles in the river.
"It was actually the beginning of the year," Burnett explained. "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."
While on the topic of this now-famous class project, Burnett mentioned a second glass bottle that someone in the late '90s had discovered. On that occasion, the child behind it had been contacted. This time, they wanted nothing more than to reach out to Brian.
It was an incredible turn of events that two of these bottles thrown into the river years before had come to be found. "Brian was a very promising young man," Martha gushed. "Even in the sixth grade, it was obvious. It is an amazing story of an outstanding young man."
Amongst all this emotion and excitement, it is important not to forget the person behind the discovery. The man who made this all possible was Billy. Brian's family, still reeling from the news, were looking to thank all those responsible for solving the case of the bottle - and first and foremost was Billy.
Billy had been the one to notice the shimmering object in the river and investigate further. He had taken the bottle to his team and worked hard to find out its true origin story. When he was informed that the family had been contacted, he was desperate to have a word with them himself.
A Message From The Beyond
"Once he found the parents, Brad called me in tears, and I was in tears," Billy said of the moment he was finally filled in on the story's ending. "When Brad told me he'd passed away, it sent chill bumps down my spine. It really did." To everyone involved, it felt like a message from the beyond.
Billy's mind immediately thought of how the events had all worked together to create this remarkable result. If the river had flown in a different direction on that April morning, likely, Billy would never have found the bottle - and his parents would have never been told of the letter's existence.
It's likely that the Big River Shipbuilder staff will never truly comprehend how much their actions meant to the Dahls. The unbearable pain they had felt over losing their child was made a little easier because of the workers' determined efforts to find the owner.
Their son, Brian, was the center of their lives, their whole hearts. This note helped them bring him closer and keep him a part of their everyday lives. On top of all this, this note touched many other people's lives, even those beyond his immediate family members.
An Unspoken Connection
With a story as heartwarming as this, it was a matter of time until it went viral. People could not stop sharing this surprisingly relatable story about loss, love, and hope. Everyone's hearts went out to the Dahls, who had lost their son. Many imagined how excited a young Brian must have been when writing the letter.
No one could have expected that a torn-up and smudged letter written by a stranger many years ago would be so fascinating to so many people all over the internet. After hearing the encouraging words the boy's parents said, they felt much sympathy towards them and their situation.
As soon as they were informed of the bottle's existence, the family knew they needed to head over to Big River Shipbuilders as quickly as possible. They were looking forward to meeting all the team behind the investigation and thanking them for their efforts. They also hoped to take the bottle and letter home with them.
"We're trying to plan a trip down to the shipbuilders and buy them a meal and hug their necks," Eric Dahl said. "Something profound has happened that brought us together, so we wanted to do it in person. They were like instant family," he emotionally added.
Bringing People Together
Long after his death, Brian continued to have an impact on his community. "To see something connect people instantly is a beautiful thing; it was typical of Brian to bring people together," Eric recalled of his child. "It's a testament to who he is and was."
The bottle and the letter are now being kept safe, far away from any more water damage. Today, it serves as a constant reminder of Brian and his happy childhood. He is forever engraved in their memory as the happiest of kids, with a love of humor and life.
A Bittersweet Reminder
In summary, the story of Brian and his message in a bottle is bittersweet. A tale that pulls at every emotional heartstring, those of happiness and pain, as well as hope and grief. Everyone on this planet can relate, having all experienced situations that evoke these feelings in one way or another.
This story teaches us that after everything we go through and all the challenges and fortunes we are given, we are always left with the memories. Once someone enters our lives, they will be forever in our hearts, long after they have left this world.