Image: Eiken Elam Saimon
Newton County Sheriff via EPA
Eiken Elam Saimon pleaded not gulity in shooting that killed three.
updated 8/13/2007 4:18:26 PM ET 2007-08-13T20:18:26

Prosecutors filed three murder charges Monday against a Micronesian man accused of opening fire in a church, killing three people and wounding five others during a service for a mostly Micronesian congregation.

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 Monday 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 Micronesian congregation),” Watson told The Associated Press earlier in the day. “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 also is 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.

Suspect silent during hearing
A not guilty plea was entered for Saimon during a brief arraignment Monday afternoon in Newton County Circuit Court. 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 the First Congregational Church during the shooting, said the gunman came in and ordered children and some members of his own family to leave.

“Then he started shooting,” Arnold said.

Watson said the investigation so far does not back early 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 Micronesian congregation rents the church and the service is held in their language.

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

Good prognosis for wounded
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 “what we would call deacons” of the church, McCracken said. Police were trying to determine if the Rehobsons were related.

He said police were told five wounded people, all adults, would recover.

During the 1990s, thousands of Micronesians emigrated from their Pacific island nations to southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, drawn by plentiful jobs in the poultry and manufacturing industries.

Micronesians can live and work in the United States without getting visas because of their home countries’ unique relationship with the United States.

Island nations throughout the Pacific fell under U.S. control after the area was wrested from Japanese control after World War II. The nations were run as colonial outposts called trust territories. When countries like The Federated States of Micronesia gained independence in the 1980s, they entered pacts with the United States that gave Micronesians the right to live and work in the United States.

Micronesians were drawn to small towns like Neosho and Springdale, Ark., because of the low cost of living and the ever-growing presence of other Micronesians. The immigrants formed tightly knit communities with their own churches, general stores and community events. About 200 Micronesians live in the Neosho area.

Rehobson led the group of Micronesians for about 15 years and ran a Micronesian store out of his house in Goodman, said Larry Zuniga, 42, who worked with Rehobson at Wal-Mart.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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