When a beachgoer handed over to the police a bottle they'd found on the Florida shore, Sergeant Paula Pendleton probably didn't expect such an emotional journey. The bottle contained couple letters, a bag of human ashes, and four dollars.
The ashes belonged to Brian Mullins, a tow truck driver from Garland, Texas, who died in early 2019 at the age of 39. The letters were heartfelt and included the phone number of Brian's family, along with four singles to cover the phone call. Brian's mother had hoped that people would find the bottle containing her son's ashes and "update her family on the bottle's journey," according to CBS News.
"This bottle contains the ashes of my son, Brian, who suddenly and unexpectedly passed on March 9, 2019," one of the notes in the bottle read. "More than anything, he longed to be free, so I'm sending him on one last adventure. This bottle was launched from Destin, Florida.
"If you find it, please call or text me and let me know. I have left $4 to cover the call. Feel free to add your own note, then kindly set him free once again. My son was 39 years old at the time of his passing and he was deeply loved. Please keep him traveling. Blessings."
Are you ugly crying yet? Because I am. And so was Paula Pendleton when she read the note. "I was overwhelmed with emotion," she told CBS News. "I sat in here, in my patrol car, and cried like a baby." Paula's husband died just last year after a brief, unexpected illness.
A second note, from Brian's daughter, hit Paula particularly hard. "When my father passed, I was 14 years old," it read. "It has struck our whole family pretty hard and, so far, it has been a very hard road. But, like my granny said, he loved to be free. So, that's exactly what we are doing."
There was nothing left to do but contact Brian's family to let them know the bottle had been found. She told them she'd found the bottle and she was going to set Brian free again in the Gulf of Mexico so he could continue his adventure.
She had help from an acquaintance who owns a charter boat. They took the bottle far off the coast and set the bottle, the notes, and the four dollars out to sea once more. Although Brian had never gone fishing in the ocean, he was an avid fisherman, according to his mother Darlene.
Because Darlene wasn't able to take her son's ashes out to sea herself, she put them in the hands of relatives who were headed for Florida. While visiting Destin in early August, they released the bottle into the tide.
I have heard several message-in-a-bottle stories, but none as moving as this one. Brian's memory and spirit have had the opportunity to be shared with people like Paula who never would have known of him otherwise. He's connecting people from halfway across the United States, and that's a beautiful thing!
Darlene told CBS News that Brian always wanted to travel the world. That's why his family chose to send him out to see like that. When they first released the bottle, Darlene said, "We thought it might have been the last we saw of the bottle. But we'll see where it turns up again." The adventure continues.