GOODMAN, Mo. — The first man shot in the rural Missouri church sanctuary was a grandfather of three who had shepherded the local community of Micronesian immigrants for about 15 years.

His uncle started apologizing to the gunmen in an attempt to defuse the situation, a witness said. Instead he was shot next.

Members of the tightly knit Micronesian community struggled Monday to comprehend why a gunman stormed into their church service, killed three religious leaders and wounded five others. All of those who died were Micronesian immigrants and pastors or associate pastors, family members said.

"He was a very generous, outgoing person," Lou Rehobson-Manuel said of her brother, Kernal Rehobson, the first man killed in the Sunday rampage. "He was kind of a shepherd for all our sheep."

Eiken Elam Saimon, 52, pleaded not guilty Monday to three charges of first-degree murder, four counts of assault, one count of felonious restraint for holding the congregation hostage, and one count of armed criminal action. A fifth charge of assault was pending.

Bond was set at $1 million for Saimon, also a Micronesian immigrant but not a member of the church. A preliminary hearing was scheduled for Sept. 18.

Rehobson-Manuel said the loss of three islanders affected the whole community. On Monday afternoon, about four dozen adults and children from islander families were gathered in Kernal's house and in the back yard.

"Right now, we're just praying a lot, to be here for each other. We are also praying for him, the suspect," Rehobson-Manuel said.

About 600 Pacific islanders live in and around Neosho, which is tucked in southwest Missouri, many of them drawn in the 1990s by plentiful jobs in the poultry and manufacturing industries.

The immigrants formed tight-knit communities with their own churches, general stores and community events. Kernal Rehobson, 43, ran a small market of Pacific island specialties next to his home in Goodman.

"When you hear talk about the good-old days when people took care of their own, that's what we're talking about here," Newton County Prosecutor Scott Watson said.

The other victims were Kernal Rehobson's uncle, Intenson Rehobson, 44, and a family friend, Kuhpes Jesse Ikosia, 53. Intenson Rehobson and Kuhpes Jesse Ikosia were also from Goodman.

The shooting happened Sunday afternoon in the sanctuary of First Congregational Church, where the Micronesian group of Congregationalists has met for several years to hold a separate service in their own language, Pingelapese. About 50 people were at the service.

Police and prosecutors declined to discuss a possible motive for the shootings. Watson said it appeared that Saimon deliberately targeted the congregation leaders.

The gunman came in and ordered children and some members of his own family to leave, said witness Janice Arnold, 43, of Detroit.

"Then he started shooting," Arnold said. "He shot the man next to me in the head. I thought I could be next."

The gunman shouted, "Liar, liar!" as he opened fire, Sheriff Ken Copeland said.

Rehobson-Manuel was also at the service. She said the gunman shot her brother first.

"I was right next to my brother and I told the shooter, shoot me next," she said. She said her uncle Intenso Rehobson started apologizing to the gunman in general, trying to defuse the situation. Then he was shot.

She said she does not remember much about the rest of the shooting because she was in shock.

"I'm going to wake up thinking he (Kernal) is going to be here and all this will be over," she said.

Police said Saimon had two guns, one small-caliber handgun and a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol as well as extra ammunition. He surrendered after about 10 minutes of negotiations.

Saimon also is a suspect in a reported sexual assault on a 14-year-old girl on Saturday, Watson said. That girl is a relative of Saimon's. No charges have been filed in that case, and investigators are looking into whether the two cases are related.

Unlike Hispanic immigrants who also settled in the area, 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 such 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 here.

Micronesia's top diplomat in Washington D.C. said he is following the shooting closely and reporting daily to his government because "it is such a shocking incident".

"This kind of thing doesn't happen back in the islands," James A. Naich told The Associated Press by phone. Naich is the charge d'affaires, or the diplomat temporarily in charge in the absence of an ambassador, of the embassy of the Federated States of Micronesia.