Widely respected ... Reverend Eric Freed. Image courtesy of Saint Bernards, Eureka.

Widely respected ... Reverend Eric Freed. Image courtesy of Saint Bernards, Eureka.

Eureka, California: Authorities say a popular priest has been found dead in the rectory of a Northern California church, and detectives have launched a homicide investigation.

Eureka Mayor Frank Jager tells the Eureka Times-Standard that the body of Reverend Eric Freed was found on Wednesday in the St. Bernard Church rectory after he failed to show up for morning mass.

Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills says the department is conducting a murder investigation at the church, but he would not confirm the identity of the victim.

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

Parishioner Winette Treder says that when Freed didn't show up Wednesday morning, a deacon went to look for him and found the body.

Freed also taught religious studies at Humboldt State University.

AP