Police: Calif. priest found dead was victim of "violent crime"

Rev. Eric Freed

EUREKA, Calif. - Authorities say a priest who was found dead in a church rectory in Northern California was the victim of a violent crime.

The body of Rev. Eric Freed was discovered Wednesday in the St. Bernard Church rectory by a deacon after Freed failed to show up for morning Mass, Eureka Mayor Frank Jager said.

Police launched a murder investigation and searched Thursday for Freed’s car, an Altima Hybrid.

"The reverend was a victim of a violent crime," Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said. "We're not sure on the motive but don't believe it was a robbery at this point."

Mills did not release the cause of death, saying police were awaiting a coroner's report. He said it was not a shooting.

A law enforcement source reportedly told that authorities are working a “strong lead” in the case.

Freed died sometime after his Tuesday evening Mass, police said.

About 100 people gathered at the church on New Year's Day and were addressed by the teary mayor, the Eureka Times-Standard reported.

Freed also taught religious studies at Humboldt State University.

Jager told The Associated Press that Freed was a close friend and a well-liked member of the community.

"He's one of those wonderful people you meet from time to time that you'd like to clone," Jager said. "He was very friendly and just a wonderful educator."