While hiking along the trail to his deer hunting shack on his 100 acre property in Shell Lake in northwestern Wisconsin, Dale Parks came upon a deflated pink balloon with a white note attached.
“It was just a note rolled up and I happened to see white and a little bit of ribbon,” Parks recalled.
Somehow, among the dense 100 acres of Parks’ property, a letter postmarked for heaven alit at his feet. If it had drifted three or more feet to either side of the trail, Parks would never have spied it. Its date was August 28, 2010, and it read:
“It’s like a needle in a haystack,” said Parks. “What happened to this little girl that she was dead at 7 years old?”
Who was Mia? How did Annie, her beloved friend, die?
Parks took the letter to his deer hunting group, Whitetails Unlimited, where he showed it to his friends including Bill Thornley, who is also editor of the local newspaper, the Spooner Advocate.
Thornley took it upon himself to research area schools and obituaries, but found no trace of either Mia or Annie. So Thornley printed her letter under the headline, “Her name was Annie, and she was loved.”
“I really hope you had a great 7 years of your life.”
The response to Mia’s letter was overwhelming, with calls and emails flooding Thornley’s office . None of them, however, knew who the two girls were.
Six weeks after the Spooner Advocate published Mia’s letter, Thornley finally received an email from Annie’s grandmother, Renee Bahneman, solving the mystery. The email read:
“I am Annie Bahneman’s grandmother. Annie died Aug. 21, 2010 and was buried on Aug. 27th. Mia was a friend of Annie’s from our lake cabin at Lake Koronis, in Paynesville, MN. I think Mia wrote this letter and let if fly from Edina, Minn. on Aug. 28th! Annie died very suddenly from Primary Amoebic Meningoenchephalitis. Primary Amoebic Meningoenchephalitis is an extremely rare brain infection.
Annie Bahneman was a sweet strawberry blonde from Stillwater. Her family says the illness took her life four days after her first symptoms. She died with a pink sunset outside her hospital window.”
Annie’s parents are Chad and Bridget Bahneman of Stillwater, Minnesota. They told Annie’s story on their Caring Bridge web site:
“Since Annie’s death, we have learned that she experienced an extremely rare form of meningitis called amoebic meningitis. She had the 1st known case of amoebic meningitis in Minnesota. Annie loved to swim and the beautifully warm summer we have experienced in Minnesota this year lended to many swimming opportunities. As is typical with adventurous 7 year olds, she was constantly trying to master new skills. One of these skills was learning how to do handstands in the water. She would come up grinning, laughing, and asking about the quality of her work. The suspicion is that during one of these playful moments that she got exposed to amoeba in the water.
We said goodbye to Annie with a beautiful celebration of her life on Friday, August 27th. The visitation, funeral, and luncheon were held at the Church of St. Michael in Stillwater. We then were joined by family and friends in a walking parade from Saint Michael’s to Fairview Cemetery in Stillwater. At the end we released balloons in honor of Annie.”
Mia is Mia Schultz and a third grader from Edina, Minnesota. She released her letter to Annie attached to a pink balloon the day after Annie’s funeral because she was not able to attend the funeral herself to say goodby to her friend, Annie.
“I didn’t go to her funeral, so I felt really bad inside,” said Mia. “The last day I saw her was on her birthday, I wish she was still alive now.”
“It took me about a half an hour, because I put all my love in it.”
Mia still remembers the first day she met Annie, outside their family lake cabin. The two were inseparable from that moment on.
The day after the funeral Mia took up her pencil to say her own goodbye to her friend Annie.
“It took me about a half an hour, because I put all my love in it,” explained Mia. “When I had a hard time spelling the words, I would just ask my mom.”
The Schultz family attached Mia’s letter postmarked for heaven to a pink balloon, and from their front yard in Edina, Minnesota, they watched as it sailed over the tree tops and beyond.
“I hope everything in Heaven is good.”
“It went all the way up there, and it took it like five minutes, and then it was gone,” remembered Mia.
“I want her to know it was fun having her, that I loved her. I thought since God was hearing it and saw it, I thought it was going to last,” Mia said.
The wind carried Mia’s letter 115 miles from her Edina home to Parks’ out-of-the-way, wooded trail in Shell Lake, Wisconsin.
Watch Annie and Mia’s story in the following video:
The editor Thornley summed it up, “It grabs your heart. This little girl sent a message to her friend and the wind blew it to somebody who could find it and tell her story.”