Residents of a small town in Missouri lost a big piece of history this week with the theft and destruction of a church bell that’s been there longer than anyone has been alive.
While much has changed since 1882 in Gunn City, a town 50 miles southeast of Kansas City with about 100 residents, the bell atop its only church has been a mainstay.
“It’s been ringing in Gunn City Church for 141 years,” said Steve Winnie, 70, the church’s pastor since June 2012.
Earlier this month, Winnie contacted the Cass County Sheriff’s Office when the bell suddenly vanished.
Its disappearance was first noticed by musicians from the church band who practice on Saturday nights. When the pastor drove over to Gunn City Christian Church to check it out, there was a hole in the roof and the bell appeared to have been pulled down by a rope or a chain.
The crime has been the talk of the town, Winnie said, as he has fielded calls from locals and others afar with community ties.
“It upset everybody quite a bit,” he said.
A break in the case came Wednesday, when Winnie got a call from the sheriff’s department. They wanted him to drive up to the office in Harrisonville, saying they had found the stolen property and needed him to identify it.
“When I went in, (the deputy) said, ‘Now, I don’t want you to get too upset here,’” Winnie recalled, saying he was unprepared for what came next.
The bell was busted up into small chunks. It looked like someone had hit it with a sledgehammer.
Winnie, though, was still able to give them a positive ID.
In a press release Thursday, the sheriff’s office announced an arrest had been made and felony charges had been filed against 36-year-old Christopher Longacre of nearby Garden City.
Longacre is accused of stealing and narcotics possession. He was ordered held in the county jail on a $25,000 bond.
Charging documents filed in Cass County Circuit Court show deputies quickly suspected his involvement in the theft. A search warrant was served at his home last week where a tow strap was collected as evidence.
On Wednesday, deputies got a tip that Longacre was in the East Lynne area. A car stop was made on his vehicle, and a K-9 unit was brought out to search it.
Seized by the deputies, according to court documents, was suspected methamphetamine, a glass pipe and a five-gallon bucket that contained metal pieces with a bell shape to them.
Authorities estimate the bell, fenced for scrap, could have netted about $4,800. The figure was based on a weight of 150 pounds and a going rate of $2 per ounce for brass at scrap yards.
For Winnie, the pastor, there’s no amount of money that can replace the relic.
“Several people have asked me: ‘Well, how much is it worth?’ I don’t have a clue,” Winnie said. “How do you put a price on something that’s been around for 141 years?”
It survived a 1920s fire at the church, which was originally a log cabin back in the 1880s, Winnie said. When the new church was built in 1927, the bell went back up and had stayed there since.
The community and the church’s tight-knit congregation will eventually recover, Winnie said. He’s already begun searching for a new bell.
“I’ve been looking online with zero luck,” Winnie said. “We’ll get it figured out, though.”
Meantime, Winnie hopes and prays something good may come out of it in the end.
“Our goal is to help others to come to Christ,” Winnie said. “And if this event is used to help bring this person to know Jesus, the love of Jesus, and turn them around, where they will be a good person and live as they ought to, the way God wants us to, then something good has come out of it. That’s what I pray for.”