Small Cass County town saddened to see historic church bell stolen
GUNN CITY, Mo. (KCTV) - In a town of 85 people, a church bell that rang for 141 years, bringing joy, has been reduced to scrap metal.
After two weeks searching for the thief who climbed up on the roof of the small church and snatched it, police made an arrest and found the bell cut into pieces, the stamping marred by a metal grinder, likely in an attempt to conceal its origin, the Cass County Sheriff’s Office said.
That man, Christopher Longacre, has been charged with felony theft and possession of narcotics, but it’s not him people in town are talking about. It’s the bell.
“There are many people in this town that miss the ringing of the bell,” said Sondra Marroquin, who lives across the street from the church. “I definitely miss it.”
“We live on the outer edge of town and we can hear it from our house,” said resident Tara Mefford, who is a member of the congregation.
Mefford remembers ringing the bell as a child. Marroquin does not attend the church but said the sound brought her joy. It was more than just a bell. It stood for something.
“Unity,” said Pastor Steve Winnie. “Unity not only for our church and for our members, but Unity for this whole community.”
Gunn City Christian Church was once a log cabin built in 1882. It burned to the ground in 1924, but the bell survived. It was placed atop the rebuilt church in 1927.
“You feel it inside because you feel violated, because if somebody would do something like that for pennies,” said Winnie before trailing off.
“For it to be here for so many years, and then just disappear,” Marroquin said. “I mean, it was older than I am.”
All across town people had stories about the bell. Mefford’s father once did work on the church roof and remembers the stampings on it. He said it read, “Revere Bronze Works. Utica, NY” followed by XXIIII, which he said meant it was 24 inches wide.”
Winnie said there are 35 people in the congregation. Some are too old to come routinely. Two have relatives that were part of the 19th-century church. Only 15 usually come on any given Sunday, but it’s not just church members calling the pastor to express sadness. Winnie described one such phone call.
“He said, ‘I know you’ll get a new bell,’ he said, ‘but I guarantee it, it’s not going to sound the same. It’s not going to be the same as the bell that was there,’” Winnie recounted.
The church has been a lot of things over the years. Not only is it a place of worship, it’s also where people used to go to exercise their right to vote. It’s where people still go as a storm shelter. It has the only basement in town to speak of. That bell was like a tornado siren. It rang during storms to alert people the doors were unlocked so they could seek shelter.
It used to be unlocked all the time, but times have changed.
Deputies identified a suspect soon after the theft on September 11, but it wasn’t until Wednesday that they tracked him down driving down a gravel road.
Longacre, who is 36 years, lives nearby in Garden City. It’s so close that it’s the city used in the little town’s mailing address. Court documents indicate deputies found meth, a glass pipe and a syringe in his truck along with a 5-gallon bucket holding pieces of the bell.
“I just hope somehow, someway he can learn from it,” said Winnie, “I really do. I really do. Because he isn’t in for much of a life if he doesn’t.”
They will get a new bell. The church has insurance, but for now, Winnie doesn’t even know where to start to shop for one. After all, no one has had to for 141 years.
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