(CNN) — A beloved Roman Catholic priest was found dead Wednesday in his church’s rectory, spurring police to launch a murder investigation and those he touched to try to make sense of his sudden passing.
Eureka, California, Police Chief Andy Mills said officers — responding to a call from staff at St. Bernard Church — first came across the victim around 9 a.m. Wednesday. He did not elaborate on how the death occurred, adding Wednesday night that there were no suspects.
Mayor Frank Jager identified the victim as the Rev. Eric Freed, whom he called a personal friend and a “tremendous person in this community” since his arrival three years ago. The St. Bernard Parish website featured a cross and the words, “Rest in Peace,” above Freed’s name.
“He was a really, genuinely warm individual,” said professor Stephen Cunha, the chairman of Humboldt University’s religious studies department where Freed taught for more than 10 years. “… Kind is the word that comes to mind, sensitive.”
Noting that students at the state university loved Freed — who was also deeply involved in that school’s Catholic student group, the Newman Center — Cunha added: “This was not some stuffy clergyman. He was very much someone that you could sit down and speak with…
“He connected with everybody.”
Local and state authorities remained at St. Bernard Church — one of two in the coastal Northern California city situated 275 miles north of San Francisco where he was the sole pastor — late Wednesday processing the crime scene and following up on tips, Mills said.
Those efforts include looking for Freed’s vehicle, a 2010 Nissan Altima. The police chief said that authorities had no solid leads.