A gunman opened fire in the sanctuary of a southwest Missouri church Sunday, killing a pastor and two worshippers 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.

The other two victims were male members of the congregation, who were "what we would call deacons," said Dave McCracken, Neosho police chief. Their names were not released because relatives were still being notified.

The gunman ordered all the children out of the church before he started shooting and briefly held between 25 to 50 people hostage before surrendering, McCracken said.

At least five people were wounded, McCracken said. But he said others who were injured may have fled before police secured the church. Police have been told that the five who were injured will recover, he said.

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

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

The congregation used to meet at Rehobson's house and was using the First Congregational Church for worship while it searched for a permanent home, Zuniga told the paper.

Officials removed two covered bodies from the brick-and-white trim church into a waiting funeral parlor van Sunday evening.

"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 statement.

The suspect, a man in his 40s who was from the Pacific islands, was being held at the Newton County Jail, but McCracken would not release any more information about him. No charges had been filed Sunday, McCracken said.

McCracken said the gunman had two small-caliber handguns and one 9 mm semiautomatic 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 to the group of worshippers from the Pacific islands, said Patty Mendoza, 35, whose friend attends the service.

"There are a lot of islanders that come here," Mendoza said. "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," McCracken 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 whether 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 shooting Sunday.

"At this point though, we don't have any information more than that," McCracken said.

Calls to the church went unanswered.