Gunman attacks church, kills 3

Monday, August 13, 2007
Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges, center left, and an assistant left the First Congregational Church on Sunday in Neosho, Mo. A gunman opened fire in the sanctuary of the church Sunday, killing three people and wounding several others, authorities said. (John Ford ~ Daily News)

NEOSHO, Mo. -- A gunman opened fire in the sanctuary of a southwest Missouri church Sunday, killing three people and wounding several others, authorities said.

One of the victims was the Rev. Kernal Rehobson, 44, who led the local congregation of predominantly Micronesian worshippers holding the service at the First Congregational Church, police said.

Rehobson was shot multiple times and was dead at the scene, Newton County Coroner Mark Bridges said.

The other two victims were male members of the congregation, whose names were not released, The Joplin Globe reported.

About 25 to 50 people were held hostage at the First Congregational Church until the gunman surrendered, Neosho spokeswoman Desiree Bridges said.

Dave McCracken, Neosho police chief, estimated about four or five people were wounded, but said several others who were injured fled the scene.

The shooter was being held at the Newton County Jail, but police were not releasing any information about him. Bridges said the suspect was related to someone in the church, but declined to elaborate. No charges had been filed Sunday, McCracken said.

McCracken said the gunman had two small-caliber handguns and one 9 mm semi-automatic machine pistol with a large magazine.

The shooting followed the 1 p.m. service, which was attended by about 50 people, ranging in age from children to the elderly. The church opened its doors for the group of worshippers, who are from the Pacific Islands and have a service in Spanish, said Patty Mendoza, 35, whose friend attends the service.

"There are quite a few of them [in Neosho]," Mendoza said. "There are a lot of islanders that come here. It's terrible. I can't imagine what it was about."

The gunman surrendered to authorities after about 10 minutes of negotiation.

"At the time that the rescue attempt was successful we had approximately 20 people in the sanctuary still," he said. "We had some people who escaped the crime scene prior to the police arrival that were wounded, and we had some people escape during the process and at the time of the rescue."

He said no one was injured during the arrest.

McCracken said he could not confirm if the gunman was a member of the church. But he said an incident involving the suspect and a family that attended the First Congregational Church on Saturday night fueled the incident Sunday.

"This is a terrible tragedy which was made worse by the fact that it happened in a peaceful place of faith and worship," Gov. Matt Blunt said in a news release issued Sunday evening.

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