An otherworldly message delivered on an iPhone?

On The Road

ARLINGTON, Va. -- To tell the strangest story of my career, I had to go back to the beginning of it.

My first job in news was with Brad Brown. It was at the CBS affiliate in Toledo, Ohio. Brad was the serious, investigative reporter who once worked for the Washington Post – and I was his wayward, feature-loving intern.

Point is, Brad comes to me with a lot of credibility – which is the only reason I even heard him out when he called me up with this unbelievable tale.

"If God wanted give a sign, what better way to do it than through the instrument that dominates people's lives today," Brad said. 

Just days after Brad Brown's mother died, this cloudy image of his mother showed up on his phone.  CBS News

The iPhone. 

"Right, the smartphone."

Brad's odyssey with his iPhone began after his mom died in February.

Janet Brown -- at one point one of the highest-ranking women in the Pentagon – was buried just this week at Arlington. Brad says he was making these arrangements when -- three days after she died -- he hit the mail icon on his phone.  And for the first time in his life, his mail didn't come up.

"And it wasn't just a blank screen like the phone had gone dead," Brad said. "There was an image there."

He took this screenshot – and recognized it immediately as a cloudy version of a different photo on his phone of his mom. 

Brad Brown took this screenshot of a cloudy image that showed up on his iPhone just days after his mother died. CBS News

The phone started working normally again a few hours later, but the image still appears today in the background of some emails.

It's weird.

We talked to several phone experts. Some were able to recreate this effect. But none could explain how it just randomly appeared the first time.

"This is what I got. Have you seen this before?" Brad asked one clerk.  

"I haven't seen this at all. That's like a lovely thing," the clerk said.  

So he wouldn't fix it?

"I wouldn't fix it," the clerk said. 

The whole experience has left this retired investigative reporter with the biggest mystery of his life.

Brad Brown says until proven otherwise, it's OK to believe a cloudy iPhone image appearing is your mother calling. CBS News

"And sometimes now, as I think about – is there a technical explanation? one side of the ledger of reality – I look at the other side of the ledger of reality – is this the blessing that God is giving to me?" Brad said. 

This Mother's Day, lots of people will be missing their moms when all of a sudden maybe a rainbow will appear or a bluebird will land on the windowsill. Mere coincidence to many, but Brad Brown says until proven otherwise, it's OK to believe it's your mother calling.

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  • Steve Hartman
    Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.