Popular Catholic Priest Found Slain in Church Rectory

b_250_0_16777215_00_images_obgrabber_2014-01_b4eedf159b.jpgNikiLitov/Thinkstock (EUREKA, Calif.) -- Police have launched a homicide investigation after a popular Catholic priest was found dead in the rectory of a Northern California Catholic church. The body of Pastor Eric Freed was found in the rectory of St. Bernard's Catholic Church in Eureka, Calif. Wednesday morning after he failed to show up for a 9 a.m. New Year's mass, authorities said.

Police have not revealed details about a possible motive, cause of death or any suspect in the case.

"I want to ensure the residents of Eureka that this does not appear to be a larger situation where people need to be concerned.  However, we are expending every resource possible to make sure that this investigation is as thorough as possible," Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said.

Mills says the killing occurred sometime after parishioners left evening services on Tuesday.

Parishioners gathered overnight for a somber press conference outside the church where the beloved priest was remembered for his caring nature.

"He was a real caring person.  Willing to help anybody at all times," Eureka Mayor Frank Jager said.  "The community is devastated.  These kinds of things just don't happen here."

Freed, who was installed at St. Bernard's in 2011, also taught religious studies at Humboldt State University.

St. Bernard's told ABC News overnight that Freed was planning to use his Wednesday morning sermon to announce his goals for the New Year. The church said the sermon urged parishioners to be happy, thankful and aware that faith is about understanding it's all in God's hands.

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