EUREKA (CBS SF) — A popular priest and college professor who failed to show up to morning mass was found dead inside his own church on New Year’s Day, and now police are investigating the death as a murder.

A deacon found Reverend Eric Freed’s body inside the rectory of historic St. Bernard Church around 9:00 a.m.

Police say Freed’s car is missing as well.

“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.

Freed died sometime after his Tuesday evening Mass, police said. Authorities were searching for his Altima Hybrid.

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.”

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.



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