Message in a bottle found on Hilton Head returned to family of Ohio girl after her death

The letter placed in the bottle.
The letter placed in the bottle. COURTESY WJW FOX 8 CLEVELAND

A message in a bottle discovered on a Hilton Head beach this week brought an unexpected reminder of much happier times to the parents of an Ohio 10-year-old who died suddenly this fall.

Delaney Riley, 10, and her best friend Abigail Watson, 9, went on vacation to Hilton Head from their home in northwest Ohio this June with a plan in mind.

The two friends wrote letters, drew pictures and made a sign reading GIRLS RULE and carefully packed them in a pop bottle.

They arrived in Hilton Head on June 18, threw their message into the ocean during a day-cruise off the island in hopes it would wash up in some far off place.

It didn't travel far, but its discovery was nevertheless miraculous.

Another set of little girls -- also best friends and the same exact ages as Riley and Watson -- were walking along a beach in Hilton Head three months later when they spotted the bottle.

They read the letter that explained what Riley saw as the most important facts about herself a stranger across the sea should know.


The girls did not yet know that Delaney Riley, the little girl who wrote the message, had died suddenly of an undetected heart defect on her way to school just a few weeks before they found her message.

"I am a girl from Canton, Ohio in the U.S.A. I have a 13 year old brother named Caden and I LOVE art," the letter reads. "When I grow up I want to be a Residential Architect."

Delaney and Abigail had been best friends since they were three-years-old, the letter said. Delaney weighed 90 pounds and her favorite color was green. She had four pets. She played volleyball and worked her hardest to get solid As in school, she wrote.

The Hilton Head girls, whose identities could not be learned Friday, saw two numbers listed and sent a message to the one they could distinguish.

"We live on Hilton Head and we thought you'd like to know we found Delaney Riley's message in a bottle," the message read. "We're two best friends -- nine and ten years old -- and we think girls rule too."

The message was sent to Debbie Watson, the mother of Riley's friend Abigail who took the pair on vacation. She forwarded it to Delaney Riley's family and told the Hilton Head girls that Delaney had passed away in September this year.

The girls sent the letter they found back to Ohio along with seashells and sand from the Hilton Head beach. They wrote letters to her parents expressing their sorrow at hearing news of the families' loss, Stephanie Riley, Delaney's step-mom said.

"Delaney was exactly like you would have seen in that letter," she said. "She was interested in learning and wanted to be an artist. We told her that you have to find a way to make money and that's how her and her dad came up with the idea of becoming a residential architect. She was already making plans."

Delaney's mother Chrissy Horning, said he saw the message washing up in Hilton Head as a gift from her daughter.

"The day before I got the message the doctor had just said Delaney shouldn't have lived past 10 months with her heart defect," Horning said. "They called her an anomaly."

Horning was forwarded the message from the girls who found the bottle along with a picture of everything packed inside.

"To me that was a sign that she really was an angel," Horning said. " I felt very blessed."

Follow reporter Erin Heffernan at twitter.com/IPBG_erinh.