Andrew Dys

Rock Hill widows ring church bell 26 times for shooting victims

A truck sputtered at the traffic light at the corner of Main Street and Oakland Avenue in Rock Hill at 9:30 a.m. Friday morning. The driver’s head turned, skyward, as the sounds washed down upon him.

A sound like no other. Not electric. Not produced. A gong, iron on steel.

The old man in the truck - there was an old battered refrigerator in the bed - looked up at the belfry of the historic First Presbyterian Church and could just see the bell that is so old. A huge gear, teeth on it, and a pulley, and a rope as thick as a man’s arm. The bell swung, and sounded, again and again.

The man in the truck rolled down the window to hear better. He drove off wiping tears from his old, weathered face.

The bell continued to ring. It rang 26 times.

American leaders had asked for a moment of silence, for churches to ring bells, at that exact moment in a country so free and rich and powerful that somehow had, a week earlier, 26 people shot to death in a Connecticut elementary school. A full 20 of them were kids who dreamed and beamed and believed and then died so horribly that no one can explain the pain of it all. The leaders who have done almost nothing about violence in America that has reached epic proportions asked for a moment of silence and bells but it is the people in America who do not need to be told to remember.

Somebody had to pull that thick rope and ring that bell. The church has no official bell ringer or ringers. It just has two ladies who love and the love had to be shared with all.

Inside the church these two gray-haired ladies climbed flights of old stairs to pull that rope, again and again. The rope moved over the pulley, the gear moved, and the bell rang. They worked as a silent team, needing no words from anybody to do a duty that was not a task, but an honor.

The rope came down, tugged, and went back up with the weight of that old iron bell that tolled for those teachers and those kids who were dead in violence that makes a nation ache with pain.

Widows, whose lives had been children - their own and others. On the left was Jean Horton, a mother and grandmother. On the right, Carolyn Williams a mother and grandmother and retired teacher and school principal.

Horton spoke of her “broken heart” from all these small children, and the heroic teachers.

“What these parents of those people, those who are gone, are going through is just awful,” Horton said. “And at this time of year. It is just, just... terrible.”

Williams talked of making sure that the victims are not forgotten, and that this nation somehow deal with violence, through actions and deeds, to make sure that carnage does not happen again

“We do this for the memory of those who died,” said Williams. “We as a nation should not forget them.”

The ladies finished ringing that bell that requires human hands and shoulders and courage and will. Just as fixing a heart-broken country and a culture of violence requires the work of human hands and human will.

The victims will be remembered Christmas Eve at First Presbyterian, at a candle-light service in the old sanctuary that solely exists to honor the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ.

The duo climbed down those stairs from the landing below the belfry. The echoes of that bell finished sounding through downtown Rock Hill.

Those 26 people, and those children, were still dead, but Jean Horton and Carolyn Williams did not forget them and what they did with that bell with their tough old shoulders and backs and hands will not be forgotten, either.

Andrew Dys •  803-329-4065