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Official: Gunman kills three, including pastor, at Missouri church

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Two worshippers and an assistant pastor were killed, police say
  • About 25 to 50 people held hostage before gunman was arrested
  • Gunman related to some of the victims, police say
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NEOSHO, Missouri (CNN) -- A gunman burst into a church in southwestern Missouri where his relatives were praying and opened fire on Sunday, killing three people and wounding at least five, authorities said.

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Officers prepare to enter the First Congregational Church as a gunman holds 25 to 50 people hostage.

"He stormed in during the service and started shooting," said Desiree Bridges, a public information officer for the town of Neosho, about 15 miles south of Joplin.

Two worshippers and an assistant pastor were killed, Police Chief Dave McCracken told CNN. The Associated Press identified the slain pastor as Rev. Kernal Rehobson, 44.

The wounded were transported to area hospitals by ground and air, Bridges said. Video from outside the church showed at least one person carried away on a stretcher.

McCracken said one of the wounded was undergoing surgery and two others are in the hospital. All are expected to recover, he said.

The Newton County 911 Center received a call at 1:54 p.m. (2:54 p.m. ET) saying that someone was shooting in the First Congregational Church, Bridges said. Video Watch footage of police outside the church »

At the time, a group of Pacific Islanders was holding a service at the church. McCracken said the gunman is also a Pacific Islander and is related to some of the people at the service, including "some of the victims."

The gunman carried three weapons -- including a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol -- and held those in the room hostage, McCracken said.

He asked the children in the room to leave, without their parents, and they did, said McCracken. All are unharmed and accounted for, he said.

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When police arrived, the shooter was holding between 25 and 50 people hostage inside the church, Bridges told CNN. After a negotiator spoke with the shooter for five to 10 minutes, police apprehended him, she said.

The suspect, who has not been publicly identified, is in custody at Newton County jail, McCracken said.

In an interview with CNN late Sunday, McCracken said the witness was "not cooperating."

"We do have numerous witnesses, however," he added.

The police chief did not say what the motive is believed to be, but he said authorities are pursuing "a couple of leads."

McCracken told the AP that an incident involving the suspect and a family from the church occurred the day before the shooting.

First Congregational Church is a Latino congregation but opens its doors to other groups.

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Some 10,500 people live in Neosho, which is about 250 miles west-southwest of St. Louis, Missouri.

"This is a terrible tragedy which was made worse by the fact that it happened in a peaceful place of faith and worship," Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt said in a statement. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Journalist August Skamenca in Neosho contributed to this report.

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