Mississippi Shipyard Workers Reunite Family With Message in a Bottle Written by Late Son in 1989

"He's with them still.”

Message in a Bottle
Photo: Big River Shipbuilders

Billy Mitchell has been a salvage diver for 20 years. April 5, the day he spotted a green bottle floating above a barge in the Yazoo River, was an otherwise ordinary work day at Big River Shipbuilders in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

"I'm always that way," Mitchell 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!'"

The glass bottle was completely intact and sealed. After two decades in the business, he'd never seen anything like it.

Mitchell managed to muscle the bottle open, then gently extracted the decaying paper from the bottle.

After the tattered pieces had dried, he and his boss, Brad Babb, started to decipher what was left of it. From a child's handwriting, they managed to pick out the last name Dahl, the year 1989, Oxford MS, a "please," "thank you," and a phrase: "Call or phone."

"We're all kids at heart really. We could all envision ourselves as that 11-year-old boy," Babb, safety manager at Big River Shipbuilders, told USA Today. "It really just fueled us to go and say, 'let's go find this guy' cause this is kind of a kindred spirit where, 'would I want somebody to find me? Yes I would.'"

When calling nearby school districts for leads didn't work out, they posted a photo of the note on the company's Facebook page along with a call to "help us find this person."

The Internet worked its magic, and earlier this month Eric Dahl, wife Melanie, and son Chris traveled about 200 miles from Oxford to see the letter for themselves.

It was written by Eric and Melanie's other son, Brian, for a sixth-grade class project. After surviving cancer, he died in an accident at home at the age of 29.

"He was victorious in his life because of the relationships he established, the bonds with other people," Eric told USA Today. "And he continues to inspire connections."

Brian's old teacher, Martha Burnett, told the newspaper that the class launched their bottles in the Tallahatchie River during a field trip back in 1989. How, 30 years later, did it manage to catch Mitchell's eye in the Yazoo River?

"He's with them still," Mitchell said. "I think that's what the note meant when we found it. To let his parents know that he was watching over them as well."

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