PARMA, Ohio — This story starts nearly 23 years ago, when the Mural family from Parma was on vacation in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, and buried a message in a bottle.
"I think it was our first day on the beach," Zenon Mural remembers. "We have all this pent-up energy, so we found a shovel at the beach house and said, 'Why don't we dig a hole?'"
The letter they wrote the date — March 3, 2000 — included where they're from and their names — Zenon, Lesia, and Roman — as well as a few other messages.
"I was just writing everything they were telling me to write," father Bob Mural said.
The family never guessed it would surface again, more than two decades.
"We were walking back to the cars," Kathy Grace told us, "and I just happened to, out of the corner of my eye, caught a little piece of a bottle."
Grace had recently lost her husband Greg in April, and wanted to spend the day cleaning up Fort Myers Beach after Hurricane Ian.
"My sister had said, 'Look for a sign, because Greg is going to send you a sign,'" she said. "'This is his day and you're at a place that you guys love to go.'"
She was searching for hope, when she found a piece of home.
"All of the connections," she gushed. "I just felt like it was meant to be."
Grace is from Hudson and had just moved to Florida only a few weeks prior. She opened the bottle, read the message, and sent a picture to her kids.
Her son Michael knew exactly who it belonged to.
"He said, 'Mom I know Roman,'" she recalled. "'Roman and I went to Ohio University together and we both work at DHL.'"
"First thing in my mind was, 'No way,'" Roman admitted. "'There is no way that they found this bottle.'"
Michael and Roman still work together in Columbus, so he messaged him the surprising news. Roman then told his family, who was shocked the bottle was found, let alone by someone they knew.
"It's just a wild story," Roman said. "Small world that out of all the millions of people that have been on that beach, they were the ones that found it and we knew them, and we were able to reconnect and have those great memories again."
The family also wrote a few messages in the letter, like "Go Buckeyes, Beat Michigan," which didn't work out too well this year (or in 2000, for that matter).
"It's a sign," Zenon explained. "So, we lost to Michigan; we found the bottle; it says 'Go Buckeyes, Beat Michigan'; and so we'll just have to beat them in the national championship."
They also wrote "Long live the United States and Ukraine," heart-wrenching to read again as they think of their strong Ukrainian roots and family back in the war-torn country.
"22 years later, we're fighting for our independence, to be free of Russian aggression," Zenon said. "I think that speaks volumes to find it on this specific year where the war began."
"Reading what we wrote about our family, about our friends living in the United States supporting Ukraine, all the things that we mentioned 22 years ago are still very important to us this day," Lesia added.
Another moment of serendipity: The kids buried the message on their father's birthday, and Grace found it on her late husband's birthday.
"Being a mother and a wife and losing her husband and then this happening on his birthday, that hit me more," mother Christine Mural said.
The end of one happy story shining hope and connecting families, amid a time of hurt and healing for another.
"In a way, it's the end of a story for us knowing whatever happened to that bottle," Christine said.
Showing just how far a message can travel, while still being close to home.