It may go to the heart of the trust and faithfulness the small population of this Iowa community has in one another that no one even noticed while it was happening. But, last month, the small western Iowa town of Lewis had its 400-pound church bell stolen when thieves reportedly pulled the bell off its hinges sometime in the middle of the night before church services that weekend. No one knew who or how many had done it, but now they do.

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Three suspects have been arrested in connection with the theft, and according to WOWT-TV in Omaha, they include 31-year-old Trenton Baier from Lewis and 30-year-old Shialea Cozad, as well as 62-year-old Phillip Duncan, both from Omaha.

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A $5,000 reward had been offered for information on the case, but those who came forward have declined it, according to the Cass County Sheriff's Office.

There will likely be a replacement bell in due time, according to Lewis United Congregational Methodist Church pastor Jerry Neal, who told Omaha's WOWT:

I believe we’re gonna get an old bell. Sadly there are rural churches closing, some of them even the age of the churches that merged with us, so somewhere out there there is a bell that needs (a home) and will continue someone’s heritage.

Meanwhile, most church members are showing forgiveness but expecting punishment for the three crooks who took the treasured centuries-old bell that dated back to the 1800s. As church member Drue Kirchoff said:

We can forgive those who stole from us, but they have to ask for God’s forgiveness for themselves

Baier, who lives right across the street from the church (not a member, but may soon need to become one...the guilt may well haunt him) is charged with second-degree theft, while Duncan and Cozad are charged with that as well as controlled substances.

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