Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills confirmed during a press conference this afternoon that his department is currently leading a murder investigation at the St. Bernard Church rectory.
Mills would not identify the victim, but Mayor Frank Jager confirmed that Rev. Eric Freed was found deceased in the building after he failed to show up for 9 a.m. Mass.
No suspects or persons of interest have been identified in the case, Mills said, but he assured that his department would expend every resource to conduct a complete and thorough investigation.
Parishioner Winette Treder said she was in the church — located at Sixth and H streets — for Mass this morning. She said when Freed didn’t show up, Deacon Frank Weber went to look for him.
”He came in and said there was something terribly wrong with Father Eric,” Treder said, adding that she and fellow parishioners then said the Rosary for Freed until police eventually asked them to leave the church.
Police have cordoned off the entire church property with crime scene tape, and Mills said investigators with EPD, the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Justice remain on scene investigating.
A teary eyed Jager addressed the crowd of about 100 community members at the church, saying Freed was a tremendous person and an asset to the community.
”For those of us who believe in prayer, this is the time for that,” Jager said.
Mills declined to estimate when the murder may have occurred, but said it happened between 6:20 last night, when parishioners left an evening Mass, and 9 a.m. today.
A popular priest, Freed was formally installed as St. Bernard’s pastor in August 2011. In addition to his priestly duties, Freed also taught in the Religious Studies Department at Humboldt State University and was director of the campus Newman Center, which celebrates Mass and offers a gathering place for Catholic students, staff and community members.
Freed lived in Japan for more than 20 years, and participated in Arcata’s annual Lantern Ceremony held in memory of the victims of the U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
He also wrote the story of Hiroshima bombing survivor Hiroko Takanashi as an introduction to 11 haikus she wrote about her experience in the book titled “The Experience of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in Poem.” During a 2009 interview with the Times-Standard, Freed said he translated the poems to English with the hope it would help others connect with the experiences of the survivors of the bombing.