By Eric Stevick Herald Writer
MONROE — The hefty brass bell in front of St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church in Monroe won’t be tolling for Sunday services this weekend.
The landmark weighing hundreds of pounds vanished this week. Tire tracks could be seen in the grass inching up to where the bell had been.
Police suspect scrap metal thieves are to blame.
“It is really heartbreaking,” the Rev. Phillip Bloom said Friday, two days after realizing the bell was missing.
The bell was purchased for the church several years ago. It had an inscription in Latin honoring St. Anthony and the year 1913, the date church officials believe the bell was cast.
The theft is strikingly similar to one that occurred in June, when a 1,000-pound brass bell was stolen from the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Arlington. It was believed to be part of the Arlington parish’s church that was built in 1919. It has not been recovered.
The Monroe church had big plans for its bell.
A teenager working to become an Eagle Scout had been designing and planning to build a bell tower.
“Everybody is just sick about it,” Sister Barbara Geib said Friday.
Young alder servers often ask who will get to ring the bell for services, she said.
A few weeks ago, the clapper — the striking tool inside the bell — disappeared.
Someone also stole a ceramic statue of the Virgin Mary that had been outside the church. A car was broken into in October in the church parking lot.
There have been no arrests in the bell theft, but police do have some leads, Monroe police officer Scott Richey said.
Scrap metal is an $85 billion industry each year in the United States, according to the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries in Washington, D.C.
Scrap metal thefts from cars, construction sites and power poles are common and ebb and flow with the market, Richey said.
The lure of a quick buck in the recycling market has led to the thefts of a variety of metal products in Snohomish County.
Bothell police recovered 67 missing metal sewer covers in April. Many belonged to neighboring cities.
Thieves have swiped catalytic converters from cars and brass fire hose fittings and have stripped downed power lines for their copper.
In January, a Mukilteo police officer stopped three suspicious men in a pickup truck that was hauling a trailer. Beneath a tarp was part of a 3,121-pound propeller made of bronze, aluminum and nickel. The four-bladed propeller measured more than seven feet across. It belonged to a Mukilteo maritime supply business. The men were arrested for possessing stolen property.
Some thefts, such as church bells, are harder to fathom than others, Richey said.
“There are some things you think would be off limits, and this would seem like one of those,” he said, nodding toward the vacant spot in front of the church.
Earlier his year, about 30 bronze vases disappeared from graves at the Evergreen Funeral Home and Cemetery. The vases were removed from different sections of the 80-acre cemetery.
Monroe police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said she hopes someone will provide a tip that will help recover the missing landmark.
“You can’t put a price on something as old as that bell,” she said.
Geib, a nun for nearly 60 years, described symbolic significance the bell played for the church.
“It is to remind us we are in a sacred place,” she said. “It is calling people to pray.”
A meeting to discuss security in the neighborhood around St. Mary of the Valley Catholic Church, 601 W. Columbia St., is set for 7 p.m. Thursday at the church. Monroe police Sgt. Ryan Irving is scheduled to attend.