Woman Was Allegedly Kidnapped and Beaten by 3 Men at Mo. Church — Lawyer Says it’s a Case of Mistaken Identity

Three men have been charged with kidnapping and assault, but defense attorney Chris Combs says the victim lived at the church and the suspects are innocent

<p>St. Louis Police Dept.</p> From left, Grace Kipendo, Pasi Heri and Mmunga Fungamali

St. Louis Police Dept.

From left, Grace Kipendo, Pasi Heri and Mmunga Fungamali

Three men are facing charges in connection with an alleged kidnapping and assault that police say took place in a St. Louis, Mo., church in late February.

Pasi Heri, 32, Grace Kipendo, 28, and Mmunga Fungamali, 25, are each facing one charge of second-degree kidnapping and one charge of third-degree assault, according to online court records reviewed by PEOPLE.

According to a probable cause statement obtained by First Alert 4, a woman was discovered in late February “bound by ropes and bleeding from the head” near a St. Louis church. She told authorities that she was held against her will in a room at the church and was only given water.

When the woman — who has not been publicly identified — was discovered, a bottle of water and “a bucket with feces and urine” was in the room where she said she was held, the probable cause statement alleges. She also claimed she was beaten at that location and allegedly identified three men who she said were responsible for her kidnapping and assault.

First Alert 4 and The St. Louis Post-Dispatch identified the church as Mount of Olives Ministry. According to The Post-Dispatch, the church is known for helping African refugees settle into the city.

<p>Google Maps</p> Mount of Olives Ministry

Google Maps

Mount of Olives Ministry

“It's unfathomable,” Arlie Singleton, a pastor at a different St. Louis church, told KSDK. “I could have never have never comprehended some allegations like this happening at that church."

Kipendo’s attorney Chris Combs tells PEOPLE that Kipendo and Fungamali are brothers from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Kipendo, a U.S. citizen, has been in the U.S. since 2010. Fungamali, who had been in St. Louis for less than two days before the alleged assault, is a Canadian citizen, Combs says.

Combs says the victim, who previously lived in Kansas City, had mental health issues and was moved to the St. Louis church by her family for “the healing of prayer.” He believes the woman was assaulted, but not by the suspects who have been charged.

According to The Post-Dispatch, the church was condemned after the arrests when St. Louis authorities found people illegally living there. The three suspects did not live at the church.

Kipendo, Fungamali and Heri have pleaded not guilty to the charges.

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“I think it’s a misidentification,” Combs says, further saying that he believes there was also a language barrier and cultural differences that contributed to the arrests. He also stated on the night the woman was discovered, an event was taking place at the church with more than 30 people in attendance.

An attorney listed for Fungamali did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment. An attorney for Heri was not listed online. The suspects are being held without bond. Kipendo’s preliminary hearing is set for March 27; Fungamali’s is set for March 28; Heri’s is set for April 3.

PEOPLE reached out to the church for comment, but did not immediately hear back.

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