Police are investigating the mysterious death of a popular priest in northern California.

Father Eric Freed’s body was discovered on New Year’s Day at St. Bernard Church’s rectory in Eureka. Authorities believe he was murdered sometime after leading a mass the night before.

After he didn’t show up for a separate service on Wednesday morning, staff members phoned police when Freed’s body was found, KCRC-TV reported.

Police have shared few details about the nature of the crime, though authorities announced the launch of a murder investigation. So far, a cause of death has not been released and no suspects have been identified.

Authorities, who characterized the death as violent, are hoping the public will help locate the priest’s vehicle, described as a dark grey Nissan Altima Hybrid. The car, which is registered in California with the license plate 6NDW400, could help provide clues in the homicide investigation.

Freed has been described as well-liked and kind by those who knew him.

“He was a really, genuinely warm individual,” Professor Stephen Cunha, chair of Humboldt University’s religious studies department, told CNN. “Kind is the word that comes to mind, sensitive.”

The priest taught at the university for 10 years.

Freed, who came to  St. Bernard Church just three years ago, posted a letter before the holidays telling parishioners how proud he was to be their pastor.

“Our parish is alive, joyful, and full of faith, hope, and charity that define us as Catholic Christians. Our efforts in our faith journey will certainly help to make this Christmas also very, very special,” he wrote.

The church has posted a pictorial tribute of a Christian cross with the words “rest in peace” on the house of worship’s official website.

Father Eric Freeds Body Found Inside St. Bernard Churchs Rectory | Murder Investigation

Image source: St. Bernard Church

The murder investigation is ongoing.

(H/T: KRCR-TV)

Featured image via CNN