your connection to The Boston Globe

Gunman charged with killing 3 in church

Congregation leaders targeted, authorities say

Suspected gunman, Eiken Elam Saimon was escorted out of the courtroom. Suspected gunman, Eiken Elam Saimon was escorted out of the courtroom. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)

NEOSHO, Mo. -- Prosecutors filed three murder charges yesterday against a man accused of opening fire in a church during a service, killing three people and wounding five.

Prosecutors also charged the man, Eiken Elam Saimon, 52, with assault, felonious restraint for holding the congregation hostage, and armed criminal action. Another assault charge was pending, Newton County Prosecutor Scott Watson said.

At a news conference, police and prosecutors declined to discuss the motive. But Watson told The Associated Press earlier yesterday that the alleged gunman had targeted congregation leaders.

"I think that you'll find that the victims were what some would term elders or leaders [of the congregation]," Watson told the AP. "As information continues to come forward, it appears that the shots that were fired were not random."

The victims were not friends or relatives of the gunman, Watson said.

Saimon is also a suspect in the alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old girl on Saturday, Watson said. That girl is a relative of Saimon's, although authorities did not specify how the two were related.

A not guilty plea was entered for Saimon during a brief arraignment in Newton County Circuit Court yesterday afternoon. The judge set Saimon's bail at $1 million, reduced from the original $5 million, and set a preliminary hearing for Sept. 18.

Saimon said nothing during the hearing, sitting for most of the time with his head bowed.

Janice Arnold, 43, of Detroit, who was inside First Congregational Church during the shooting, said the gunman came in and ordered children and some members of his family to leave.

"Then he started shooting," Arnold said.

Watson said the investigation so far does not support earlier reports that the shooting was triggered by an altercation Saturday night between the suspect and a family that belonged to the congregation.

Saimon was not an active member of the church, police said.

The gunman had two small-caliber handguns and one 9mm semiautomatic machine pistol with a large magazine, said police Chief Dave McCracken.

The shooting occurred during the 1 p.m. service, which was attended by about 50 people, ranging in age from children to the elderly.

"This was a tragedy as far as those killed and injured but it could have been a lot worse," McCracken said.

The gunman surrendered after about 10 minutes of negotiation. He had held 25 to 50 people hostage.

The victims included Kernal Rehobson, 44, of Goodman, who was the pastor of the congregation.

The others were Intenson Rehobson, 44, and Kuhpes Jesse Ikosia, 53, who were like deacons of the church, McCracken said. Police were trying to determine if the Rehobsons were related.

He said police were told that the five wounded -- all adults -- would recover.