Nfld. & Labrador

17 years later, a message in a bottle brings Tenerife family to N.L. for Christmas

Carolann Riggs and Patrick Dennis have stayed in contact for years — after Dennis found a message in a bottle from Riggs's daughter — and are spending this Christmas together in Newfoundland

Carolann Riggs and Patrick Dennis connected for the first time in 2002

Patrick Dennis, left, and Carolann Riggs met in 2002 after Patrick received a message in a bottle from Carolann's daughter Siobhane. (CBC)

Seventeen years ago, a man in Tenerife, a Spanish island off the coast of West Africa, found a message in a bottle — and this Christmas he finally came to Newfoundland to spend time with the family of the girl who sent it.

Carolann Riggs connected with Patrick Dennis for the first time in 2002, when Dennis received a message in a bottle from Riggs's five-year-old daughter, Siobhane.

"I felt very very privileged and lucky," Dennis said. "In fact, the messages were addressed to 'the lucky person.' And I felt very lucky."

But when Dennis left a message on Riggs's answering machine, hoping to hear back from Siobhane, he heard from Carolann Riggs, who told him Siobhane had died in a tragic accident earlier in the year.

"Carolann phoned back, and it was one hell of a phone call," Dennis said.

The two have stayed in contact over the past 17 years, with Carolann visiting Dennis in Tenerife in 2004 and 2017. During both of those visits, Riggs invited Dennis and his family to spend Christmas in Newfoundland. Back in August, Dennis booked his ticket, and then flew around the world to be in Burin for Christmas.

In December, 2002, Carolann Riggs from Newfoundland got a message on her answering machine from Tenerife in the Canary Islands. The man was looking for her daughter Siobhane. But Siobhane had passed away in a tragic accident almost a year earlier. 7:19

"The best thing is it's snowing," Dennis said. "I've come here with my wife and two children … and they've never really been in the snow before. We went out last night, and the smiles they had on their faces make everything worth it."

Riggs said she loves having her family friends in Newfoundland for Christmas, and her daughter Siobhane would have loved it too.

"Siobhane would be very happy," she said. "She wanted to celebrate Christmas, everybody's birthday, everything had to be a celebration.

 "I really do feel that this message landing over in Tenerife and Patrick getting this bottle and making this connection gives me some closure. It gives me a closure that she's not far. She is always here with us."

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With files from CBC News Network