LEWIS, Iowa — “Thou shalt not steal” is one of the Ten Commandments of Christianity, but authorities believe three people broke that tenet by stealing a prized possession from a small Methodist church.
“We were shocked,” said Pastor Jerry Neal of the United Congregational Methodist Church in Lewis. “We came to church and realized our bell had been stolen.”
The Cass County congregation noticed their bell had gone missing on March 19. Neal said the structure was a symbol for Lewis, a town of roughly 400 people, and was a part of the community before anyone still alive was born.
“It’s part of our history, part of our heritage,” said Neal. “It goes back somewhere between 100 and 150 years.”
Churchgoers Drew Kirchhoff and Rob Stamp eventually raised $5,000 to give as a reward for tips on the stolen bell.
“Everybody helps everybody here,” said Kirchhoff. “I’ve been fortunate to grow up here and know that all my life.”
“That bell has been an icon in this church, and we wanted the bell back,” said Stamp.
The Cass County Sheriff’s Office eventually arrested three people on second-degree theft charges:
- Trenton Baier, 31, of Lewis
- Shialea Cozad, 30, of Omaha, Nebraska
- Phillip Duncan, 62, of Omaha, Nebraska
Cozad and Duncan also face charges relating to drug possession.
Unfortunately, deputies believe the suspects destroyed the historic bell.
“They told us the suspects just took it over for scrap, cut it up, and sold it in a scrap yard,” said Kirchhoff.
The person whose tip led to the arrests declined to accept the $5,000 in reward money. The church is debating whether to use that for a replacement bell.
While the suspect’s ultimate fates will be decided by a judge and jury, Neal said his congregation is choosing not to hold a grudge about the situation.
“We are followers of Christ,” Neal said. “He forgave us, and we need to forgive them, but doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences for what they did.”