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Thieves cart off school's Victory Bell

By BARBARA BEHRENDT

© St. Petersburg Times, published August 4, 2000


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Ringing in the new school year is going to be a little bit tougher in some respects for Crystal River High School this year: The "Victory Bell" has been stolen.

The bell was welded into its stand in one of the school's courtyards and has long been used to celebrate athletic victories.

But late last week, someone broke into the school and went to great lengths to rip the bell from its base and haul it off.

"We're kind of upset about it," said principal Craig Marlett.

The bell has been in place without any problems for more than a dozen years, he said. This particular bell was brought to the school by a couple of local men who drove all the way to Pennsylvania to get it.

In the past, Citrus High School students would take the bell as a prank directed at their football rivals, but it would always turn up somewhere. Marlett recalled the school getting clues about where the bell might be. Then, the last time it was taken, it was never recovered.

"That wasn't a prank. That was just vandalism," Marlett said.

The school went several years without a bell, then community members volunteered to take the long drive to find this one.

As for suspects in this case, Marlett said he is being careful not to say.

"There's no one I would like to name in the newspaper, but I have some suspicions," he said.

The Crystal River police report on the incident indicates there might have been enough clues left at the scene to point to Crystal River's old athletic foes again.

"The bell may have been taken by Citrus High School students, due to the fact that there were "canes' written out with sticks and "C.H.S. Rules' written in the dirt next to a tree near the bell site in the courtyard," the report states.

Citrus High's football team is the Hurricanes.

Footprints also were found at the site, as well as evidence that a hand truck was used to haul the bell out.

"We caught wind of that a few days ago," said Howard Hawk, assistant principal at Citrus High School. "The boss put some feelers out, but we haven't had any substantial information back on that."

He said he has seen the bell and estimated it was very heavy. "Someone would have really had to work at that," he said.

Police estimate the value of the bell at $550 and Marlett said it probably weighs well over 100 pounds. A lock and chain also were taken from one of the gates the burglars had to break through to get to the bell.

Marlett noted that breaking into the school isn't seen as just a prank, as it might have been considered in the past. But still, he said he wonders if he might be getting a ransom note soon and he wouldn't mind getting some information about where he could find the bell.

Hawk said the time for such pranks is past and his school plans to keep hunting for the perpetrators if they happen to be associated with Citrus High.

"We're going to try to help (Marlett) get it back," he said.

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