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Message in a bottle from high school class found 32 years later unlocks memories of beloved teacher

By Sarah Engel and Christina Zdanowicz, CNN

(CNN) — The extraordinary discovery of a decades-old message in a bottle has inspired alumni of a Long Island, New York, high school to remember their beloved late science teacher.

Local waterfowl guide Adam Travis spotted a green bottle lying near some marsh grass in Shinnecock Bay on Long Island last week. Inside the bottle was a letter, “rolled up and in perfect condition,” Travis told CNN.

Travis didn’t know it at the time, but posting photos on Facebook of the bottle and the letter, scrawled in the pencil handwriting of a ninth grader, would unlock its story and the inspiration behind its origin.

“Dear Finder, As part of an Earth Science project for 9th grade, this bottle was thrown into the Atlantic Ocean near Long Island. Please fill in the information below and return the bottle 2 us. Merci, Gracias, Danke, Thank you, Shawn and Ben,” the letter read, addressed from Mattituck High School on Long Island in October 1992.

Amazement and wonder bubbled up in the Mattituck High School Alumni Facebook group about how the letter remained intact for 32 years – and how it was found just a few miles from the high school.

People also flooded the post’s comment section with kind messages about the teacher who assigned the project: Richard E. Brooks.

“Mr. Brooks was an awesome teacher,” wrote Benny Doroski, one of the authors of the 1992 letter. “What a fun project. Can’t believe it was 32 years ago.”

Brooks’ son, John, said he was in tears and so emotional when he saw the post about his father.

John Brooks told CNN that his father, who passed away last year from Alzheimer’s, taught Earth science at Mattituck High School for about 40 years. He also coached volleyball, track, soccer and sailing.

“The message in a bottle project was one of his favorite and longest-standing projects over the years,” Brooks said. He said his father previously heard from people “in the Azores, Ireland and other far-off places” where more of his students’ bottles were found.

The discovery came after a time of a few losses for the family. Seeing a reminder of his father’s work boosted Brooks’ spirits, he said.

“This discovery has been such a blessing, and has given us a much-needed infusion of good vibes, positive energy and heartwarming remembrances!” he said.

“My dad was never one to seek recognition, and it’s so fitting that he is now getting it.”

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