The following comes from a Jan. 2 story in the Humboldt Times-Standard. St. Bernard was featured in the Nov. 15 Cal Catholic (Churches worth driving to).
The Eureka Police Department launched a murder investigation Wednesday after a popular St. Bernard Church priest was found dead after failing to show up to Mass.
Police Chief Andrew Mills declined to identify the victim in the case, but Mayor Frank Jager confirmed that Rev. Eric Freed was found deceased in the rectory building on the church property shortly after 9 a.m. Wednesday. Mills said no suspects or persons of interest have been identified in the case and released few details about the slaying. But, Mills assured the public during a press conference in front of the church Wednesday afternoon, EPD will 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 at 9 a.m. 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.
According to police scanner traffic — a recording of which was posted online by the Lost Coast Outpost — police were called to the scene shortly after 9 a.m. to a report of an unconscious male. An ambulance was summoned to the scene but quickly called off after a responding officer reported the victim was confirmed to be deceased. Mills declined to say if there’s any indication when Freed was killed, but parishioners said he delivered Mass at the church Tuesday evening, and was seen in the church as late as 6:20 p.m.
Police cordoned off the entire church property with yellow crime scene tape, and Mills said his department assembled a team, “with as much expertise as we could possibly muster” to conduct the investigation, with personnel from EPD, the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office and the California Department of Justice all participating. A crowd of about 100 community members assembled at the church for Mills’ press conference, and a teary eyed Jager said Freed was a friend — a tremendous person whose slaying is a great loss, not just to St. Bernard Church but to the entire community. ”For those of us who believe in prayer, this is the time for that,” Jager said.
A popular priest, Freed was formally installed as St. Bernard’s Parish 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. Wednesday afternoon, police were called to Sacred Heart Church on Myrtle Avenue, where a church employee reported an unlawful entry. The employee opened the church door to find a man inside. Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Dave Morey said the unidentified man fled the scene as the employee called police. Morey said it’s unclear if the incident was in any way related to Freed’s killing.
“We have no idea, but we are treating it like it might be, just to be careful,” Morey said, adding that his office has advised all local churches to be especially careful and report any suspicious activity. During the press conference, Mills declined to comment on Freed, the condition in which he was found or anything about a possible motive in the case. ”It’s just too early in the investigation to give that kind of information,” he said.
EPD is seeking the public’s assistance in locating Freed’s vehicle, a gray Nissan Altima Hybrid, license plate 6NDW400. Mills said it’s unclear when the vehicle was last seen or if it was at St. Bernard Church prior to Freed’s death, but the department is warning anyone who may see the vehicle not to approach it and to instead call police. Mills asks that anyone with information regarding the vehicle or the case call EPD at 441-4044. To read the entire story, click here.