A father’s special goodbye has led to a surprising connection.
George Gumpert Sr. told Fox News he put the ashes of his late son, George “Big Guy” Gumpert Jr., into the ocean during a trip to Perdido Key, Florida, with his wife last week.
“It’s been hard to let him go,” the Tannersville, Pennsylvania, man said when referring to "Big Guy," who was just 27 years old when he committed suicide in 2010.
That wasn’t the only thing he set free. Gumpert Sr. also released a message in a bottle.
It was just a matter of days, according to Gumpert Sr., before Tracy Arnette discovered it.
The Florida woman was walking home from a shelling expedition on Johnson Beach Sunday in Perdido Key when she noticed something flashing in the water, Arnette told Fox News, before it landed 2 feet in front of her.
Arnette said she got home at 4:30 p.m. that day and opened the bottle, where she found the message inside listing what later turned out to be Gumpert Jr.’s date of birth and a quote from him.
"What do you do when you realize that the answer you've been chasing your whole life is really just the next question," the quote read.
“I saw the picture, I thought ‘I’m rather interested,’” she remembered. A Google search of the photo and quote didn’t yield any results - so Arnette said she turned to Facebook.
Arnette asked community members on a page called “The OBA Group” for assistance -- and “within an hour” of coming home, she had Gumpert Sr.’s contact information.
“It was absolutely a group effort,” she said when it came to finding the father, explaining others were involved in the digital search process.
“It’s a miracle of social media,” she said.
Arnette and Gumpert Sr. met in person on Thursday night after messaging one another.
“I cried,” Arnette said of their “overwhelming” encounter.
Gumpert Sr. only had praise for Arnette, calling her “such a beautiful, wonderful person.”
“Anybody could have thrown [the message in a bottle] in the garbage … but she did this due diligence and grabbed her friends and it kept on going,” he said.
“I'm proud by my son, I think he’s pushing [this story] along,” Gumpert Sr. shared, who confirmed he hopes it will spread awareness about suicide.
As for Arnette? “It was like his son found me,” she shared, “and he does want this story to go forward.”
And in a way, it will. A Sunday ceremony is planned and a group of people will head out in a boat and put the message in a bottle back in the water, Arnette said.