Authorities say historic bell taken from Valley school

FRESNO, Calif.

Staff and students at Centerville Elementary School say burglars have dampened the holiday spirit by stealing the school bell.

The bell was on the Centerville Elementary School campus near Highway 180 and Rainbow.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office says metal theft is a huge problem in the Valley.

Staff at Centerville Elementary say they don't have a dollar value of the 100-year-old bell, but say it's is a priceless part of their community.

On Friday, teachers and students were in disbelief. They say someone took off with a historical treasure.

"It's priceless, we cannot have another bell brought in because this bell has traveled from 1911 to today, 2011, so it's priceless," Lisa Houston of Centerville Elementary said.

The bell was once used at a tiny Valley school in the 1900s. It arrived in Centerville after several schools in the area converged.

Principal Lisa Houston says the bell was in place Thursday night during the school's Christmas program.

The gates were locked at 10:30 that night.

Kindergarten teacher Edward Cace discovered it was gone when he got to work.

"They had pried a part of the bell up and they had loosened the bolts for the other part, there was obviously a couple of individuals . You could see footprints and things of that nature," Cace said.

Sixth graders Skyler and Sierra have a message for those responsible.

"I really don't know why they did that to our school and I really hope they can at least get it back to us and say 'we did it, we are sorry'," Skyler Peoples said.

"If the people that did take it are watching I hope you guys have a kind heart and will return it safely and properly," student Sierra Dominguez said.

Teachers tell Action News this isn't the only bell which has been stolen from campus.

Another one, now drilled back into place, was stolen a few years ago.

"Luckily a sheriff happened to be at a swap meet and noticed the bell for sale and the bell was returned and secured at Centreville School," Houston said.

The Fresno County Sheriff's Office says this type of burglary is a growing problem.

"The majority of people we catch stealing metal or in possession of stolen metal have a problem with street drug use, specifically methamphetamine," Sgt. Mike Chapman of the Fresno County Sheriff's Office said.

Investigators now have a warehouse stocked with stolen metal objects.

Students tell Action News they just want to have the bell back on school grounds.

"It is a part of our school and we are all a family and we really hope it can get back, safely and not in any damage," Skyler Peoples said.

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