Freed was beloved by parishioners of St. Bernard Catholic Church in Eureka. People who knew him told ABC7 News his death is a real shocker and really a senseless murder. Freed also had connections in San Francisco, specifically, with the Japanese Catholic Society.
"When Father Freed did not show up for mass, parishioners from the church went to the rectory and found that Reverend Father Eric Freed was badly injured," said Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills.
Police have arrested Gary Bullock of Humboldt County. Investigators say Bullock broke into the rectory and then encountered Father Freed. Police acknowledge that the suspect had been arrested just 24 hours before, for public intoxication.
Bullock was combative and was eventually sent to jail. He was later set free. "Officers referred Bullock to emergency shelter for the night and was released," Mills said. That's when one witness says he saw Bullock near the church in the early morning hours of New Year's Day.
Freed also taught at Humboldt State University where Stephen Cunha is chairman of the Religious Studies Department. "He was beloved by the community and because he worked with the university and he worked in his parish and several other initiatives, he had a wide net," Cunha said.
That net that extended to San Francisco. Freed had lived in Japan for 20 years. According to his friends, his connection with the Japanese-American community was important to him. On the third Sunday of every month, he said mass at St. Francis Xavier in San Francisco to members of the Japanese Catholic Society.
Outside St. Mary's Cathedral Thursday, people reacted to Freed's death. "I feel sad beacuse, as if nobody cares anymore for anybody's life," parishioner Virginia Wong said.
St. Bernard Church falls under the jurisdiction of the Catholic Diocese of Santa Rosa. Bishop Robert Vasa left Wednesday for Eureka to help provide support for the community there.
Funeral services for Father Freed will be held either Monday or Tuesday.