Billy Mitchell was just on another day at the job when he found something glistening in the water. After uncovering a mysterious bottle, he took a look inside and couldn't believe what he saw. Here's his story.
From the Beginning
Billy Mitchell worked for Big River Shipbuilders for some time, and he always did his best while on the clock. However, during his shift on April 6, 2022, things were about to take a sharp turn!
The company Billy worked for offered boat maintenance, construction services, and repairs. The business was located in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and per their Facebook page, the company was "Family owned and operated since 1988, Big River Shipbuilders, Inc. has been involved in the maritime industry."
Lurking in the Water
Billy came to work on April 6th, thinking it would be like any other day on the job when he was assigned to the Mississippi side of the Yazoo River. The hardworking employee and his coworkers were salvaging sunken floats, which are smaller barges.
Mitchell was in the midst of working hard when he eyed something that looked rather unusual glistening in the water. Billy noticed there was an object floating in the canal above one of the barges, and thankfully he saw it before the barge was moved.
Taking Another Look
Billy took notice of the bottle just in time and decided to pick it up. At first, it was just an average green bottle, and he couldn't quite tell what it was. But as he got closer, he noticed something was trapped inside of the bottle. He wanted to know more.
Curious about what this mysterious green bottle could contain, Billy looked around to see if his coworkers noticed what he had picked up -and they saw nothing. The hard worker decided he would want to know more about the bottle... but that he would do it all alone.
The Big River Shipbuilders employee got a hold of the glass bottle, and immediately he could tell it had been floating for a while. He could see that the material had deteriorated from what looked like months or years of travel. This just intrigued him even more…
Looking closely at the green glass bottle, Billy saw that there was actually a rolled-up piece of paper hidden inside - and his curiosity spiked. The paper looked partially wet, which would make it a little more difficult to fish it out. But he carefully managed to retrieve it after a few tries.
A Handwritten Message
Very slowly and carefully, Billy pulled out the rolled-up paper from the glass bottle. He was afraid of potentially damaging the contents inside. He opened up, smoothed out the note he had somehow stumbled upon, and couldn't believe what he was looking at.
Billy unfolded a handwritten letter! He simply couldn't believe what he was staring at and was even more intrigued. However, the paper was extremely fragile and ruined from the water, making it difficult to maneuver, let alone read certain parts of the note.
The Ultimate Surprise
Despite the note sitting right in front of him, he couldn't believe what he had discovered. Naturally, Billy had loads of questions running through his head and didn't know where to start: who wrote it, who was it meant for, when was it written, and how did it end up in a bottle?
Everything that was going on felt like it was straight from a Hollywood-directed film! "I was shocked and excited," Mitchell later accounted of the moment he found the bottle. "You hear about messages in a bottle, but I never thought I'd find one in the canal over here."
Sharing the News
Sitting atop some pretty exciting news, Billy was curious to find out more and more. He carefully placed the note back into the bottle and ran to find his coworkers in their office to share his updates. Billy could see his coworkers were as interested in cracking the mysterious note as he was.
However, they were up for a difficult task ahead: the message had been through quite a bit trapped in the glass bottle, as water had seeped through and ruined bits of the paper. A few big major parts of the letter were missing, making it difficult to read the cursive.
Tracing the Roots
As unclear as certain parts of the letter may have been, it didn't stop the team of hard workers from deciphering the message. After a couple of minutes, they were able to determine the note was written by a young boy from Oxford, Mississippi, for a class project.
After figuring out the note was written by a child years and years before, they also surmised the note was placed into Sardis Lake in 1989. The lake was 295 miles from where it was found. So naturally, the group was getting more and more curious and wanted to track down the bottle's origins.
Who Did It Belong To?
The hard workers and rookie detectives at Big River Shipbuilders, Inc., decided to inform their company's safety and compliance officer, Brad Babb, of the situation. Naturally, he was in as much shock as the rest of the gang. Babb was also ready to hop on board and help find the bottle's owner.
Babb took matters into his own hands and called up a few of the schools in the Oxford area, hoping to get some insight from a teacher or principal who might recognize the cursive handwriting. Although people were utterly fascinated by the story, they were unable to help.
Hatching a Plan
Realizing that cold-calling schools wasn't going to work, he decided to implement Plan B. Babb went straight to social media and posted a photo on the company's Facebook page, which boasted 1,216 followers, hoping that would give him some new insight.
Although this post on the company's page was quite different than most, Babb knew they had to give it a try in order to potentially get the answers they were looking for. The page typically gained great traction from its dedicated followers, so he thought it was worth a shot. But would it work?
A Personal Plea
"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 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," the post read.
In addition to the caption explaining the situation, the post included a photo of the contents within the glass bottle - the crumpled pieces of paper. The company's followers were immediately curious, almost as much as the hard-working crew who found the bottle in the first place.
The post quickly gained a lot of attention from the Internet world, and 125 Facebook users shared the company's post. Even individuals who were not following the company's page were fascinated by the discovery and were dedicated to helping the crew find the mysterious owner.
The numbers started to get higher and higher, and once it shot up to 50 likes, the crew at Big River Shipbuilders could see people were helping out and spreading the word to others. With all the online support, the gang thought maybe they would actually be able to solve the case. Things were finally looking up...
A Hopeful Lead
After a few days of the post being live, the photograph gained more and more comments and attention. However, none of this traction led them to the person behind the handwriting. Naturally, the crew began to wonder if they would ever actually crack the case.
With the post gaining more attention, they hoped that someone would be able to connect the dots for them. The crew continued working hard until one day, a comment from an 'Evan Michele' popped up on the post. Was this the first step toward solving the puzzling case?
"Check Your Messages"
One of the employees from Big River Shipbuilders checked out the business's Facebook page to see if anyone had any insight on the owner behind the glass bottle. And as soon as he refreshed the page, he saw one particular comment that would change it all.
The comment read, "Check your messages. I think I've figured it out. Just didn't want to publicly publish personal information online." This was the most promising link they've made so far, and they could feel something was bound to happen. Next, they rushed to the phone. They had an important call to make.
Enter Dr. Dahl
The crew at Big River Shipbuilders were excited to see where this new lead would take them. So they called a 'Dr. Eric Dahl' to get some much-needed answers. Dr. Dahl's phone went off while he was at church in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. But once he saw the number, he picked it right up.
The doctor's phone was on high volume that evening, considering he was on call from the hospital that evening. Typically, it wouldn't be on loud while he was at church, but when he saw the incoming phone call, he knew something was up. And boy, was he right.
In a State of Shock
The doctor received a call from a construction company in the maritime industry who was curious about a green bottle found in the Mississippi River. The caller was told Dahl the message was written by a student in 1989, with the last name Tahl. And he couldn't believe it.
Immediately, his eyes started swelling up with tears as he heard what Babb had to say on the other side. The doctor couldn't believe what he was hearing, as he never thought his son's letter would get back to him after all this time. He was speechless - completely in shock.
The 6th Grade Project
Son to Eric and Melanie Dahl, Brian Dahl was born in 1977, and when he was in sixth grade at Oxford University school, his teacher assigned the students a special class project. Each student wrote their name and a message on a little slip of paper and rolled it up into a small glass bottle.
The students then closed the bottle, sealed it tightly with wax, and threw it into the river. When speaking to Brian's sixth-grade teacher, Martha Burnett, who assigned the project all those years ago, she planned the project to teach the students how bottles would float from the Delta River into the Mississippi River.
As exciting as the news of the found bottle was for the parents, Eric and Melanie Dahl had suffered a great loss years before: unfortunately, Brian had passed away a few years before the glass bottle was discovered, leaving his parents completely devastated.
After picking up his phone that day in church, Eric Dahl believed the entire situation was divine intervention at its best. The Dahls took the news as a piece of hope, thinking that possibly their boy was closer to them than they had ever imagined. It was comforting for them to have these memories around.
“A Gift From On High”
"It's like something in a fictitious novel or something you'd see on TV," Eric Dahl gushed. "To see Brian's handwriting from when he was 11 or 12 years old - it was miraculous," he expressed. "It was a gift from on high. We're a praying family, and this is a part of God's providence."
"It was just kind of incredible to me that could happen," Melanie Dahl said after reading her child's letter." 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?"
Smiles From Above
Melanie Dahl recalled her son's special sense of humor, saying, "He was really funny," and that "he had a very quick wit." So, she knew that the discovery was something that he would have definitely found joy in, giving Eric and Melanie a sense of comfort.
Both Melanie and her husband believed Brian was in heaven watching over those he loved, particularly his family. She could only imagine her son looking down on them as they uncovered the old letter from a sixth-grade project. "If that's true, he's getting a really big kick out of this," she smiled.
An Emotional Rollercoaster
Brad Babb couldn't believe the mystery had finally been solved. With the help of his crew and social media, they were able to locate whom the handwritten letter belonged to. And in doing so, they gave grieving parents a heartwarming comfort. "I spent 30 to 45 minutes talking to the dad, and I probably cried 3 times," Babb said.
"He said over and over, his son was his best friend," Babb shared. "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."
Trip Down Memory Lane
It was almost unbelievable that Babb and the team were able to track down the Dahls and get the answers they needed to close the case. Reporters were even able to track down Martha Burnett, Brians's sixth-grade teacher, who took her class down to the river that day.
"It was actually the beginning of the year," Burnett remembered. "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."
Not Just One, but Two Bottles
Burnett also shared that Brian's bottle wasn't the only message that had been found - years before, in the late 1990s, someone had located a glass bottle floating around as well. The teacher shared that the student who wrote the letter was also contacted.
It was incredible that Brian's bottle was found, and almost hard to believe that there was another bottle found before that. "Brian was a very promising young man," Burnett recalled. "Even in the sixth grade, it was obvious. It is an amazing story of an outstanding young man."
The Man Behind It All
What a miraculous story! It's great to know that Brian's long-lost letter made it back to his parents, especially after the tragic passing of their son. Melanie and Eric Dahl had so many people to thank for reaching out to them and making this discovery in the first place.
However, there was one person, in particular, to thank, as none of this would have happened without him: Billy Mitchell. Billy was just doing his job when he spotted the green floating bottle and was intrigued to know more. And once he found out who the letter had belonged to, he was curious to speak to the family as well.
"I Was in Tears"
"Once he found the parents, Brad called me in tears, and I was in tears," Billy Mitchell said, remembering the exact moment he found out what had happened." When Brad told me he'd passed away, it sent chill bumps down my spine. It really did," he said.
Billy realized that this must have been fate. If the river had drifted in a different direction, he might have never found Brian's message - and in return, his parents would never have found out about the letter and further connected to their late son. The bottle could have been kept hidden forever…
A Lasting Imprint
Melanie and Eric Dahl were so thankful that Billy and the team at Big River Shipbuilders discovered their son's letter and, even more so, decided to do something about it. Not everyone would have put in all the work to find the notes' owner. But Billy and the team knew what they had to do.
Brian was their son, after all, so a loss as big as this was completely devastating. But when the news arrived that someone had found a long-lost letter belonging to him, they instantly felt re-connected to him after all this time. But the Dahls weren't the only ones who felt connected to the story…
Immediately, the inspirational story went viral and was packed with various people who related to the story on their own personal terms. People from all over the country felt for the Dahl family and how exciting but emotional it must have been for them to see his handwriting all these years later.
It's incredible what social media can do! Despite the letter being virtually illegible, worn out, and ruined, the crew at Big River Shipbuilders were determined to find its' owner. And so they did. With the help of hundreds of users online, they managed to find the Dahl family.
Finding a New Family
The Dahls decided they wanted to meet the employees at Big River Shipbuilders and thank the strangers who were responsible for this selfless deed. The family wanted to give them a massive thank you - after all the time and energy they put into finding them. And, of course, for bringing the treasured memento back home.
"We're trying to plan a trip down to the shipbuilders and buy them a meal and hug their necks," the boy's father revealed. The emotional dad added, "Something profound has happened that brought us together, so we wanted to do it in person. They were like instant family."
"A Testament to Who He… Was"
"To see something connect people instantly is a beautiful thing; it was typical of Brian to bring people together," Eric Dahl reflected. "It's a testament to who he is and was." Clearly, Brian was a beautiful soul whose personality and heart left a long-lasting impact on their community.
Safe to say, the Dahls will forever cherish the precious and sentimental glass bottle with the note tucked inside. The newfound discovery will always serve as a gentle reminder of Brian as a child - and the joyous life he once led alongside his loved ones.
A Bittersweet Message
Although the Dahls' story is somewhat bittersweet, we are comforted to know that Brian's family now has something special that once belonged to their son. The family experienced happiness, sadness, grief, and everything in between - emotions we as human beings know all too well.
However, throughout the ups and downs of life, we are reminded that there are good people out there - like Billy and the crew, who are willing to go to the ends of the world to help strangers. The Dahls will forever miss Brian, but know that his presence will always remain close by…