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A Catholic priest in Northern California was found dead in the church rectory after he failed to show up for mass on Wednesday.
The New York Daily News has reported that authorities in Eureka found the body of the Rev. Eric Freed hours before a break-in at a nearby church.
Police did not reveal what is believed to be the cause of death, but have launched a murder investigation and are searching for Freed’s 2010 Nissan Altima, CNN reports.
Hours after the priest was found, police were called to the Sacred Heart Church two miles away, where an unknown man was spotted in the building. The man fled the scene before police arrived.
Freed was the pastor at St. Bernard’s Church in the coastal city 275 miles north of San Francisco and was well liked by parishioners and students at Humboldt University, where he taught for over a decade.
“He was a tremendous person in this community,” Mayor Frank Jager told reporters outside the rectory. “This is an absolutely tremendous loss not only for the St. Bernard’s parish, but for our community in general.”