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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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The latest on national protests. Plus, what went wrong in Yemen rescue attempt?

The latest on national protests. Plus, what went wrong in Yemen rescue attempt?

January 3rd, 2014
05:09 PM ET

Friend of murdered priest: He opened the church to homeless, downtrodden

(CNN) - Friends and family are mourning the loss of a beloved priest beaten to death inside his church rectory Wednesday, remembering him as a man who practiced what he preached.

"He lived his values," said Humboldt State University professor Stephen Cunha, both a friend and a colleague of Reverend Eric Freed.

"He was very concerned about social injustice, and resolving great social inequalities, which we see here in our small community," said Cunha.

From the pulpit and the classroom, Freed tried to persuade well-off members of the community to be open to those who were less fortunate, said Cunha.

His empathy may have unfortunately contributed to his murder.

Suspect Gary Lee Bullock, who was arrested and charged Thursday in the reverend's murder, was actually in police custody hours before the crime. On New Year's Eve, Humboldt County sheriff's deputies had responded to reports that a person was "acting strangely" and arrested Bullock, taking him to jail. They eventually let him go.

The motive for murdering Freed remains unclear, though police think it was a crime of opportunity.

Although little is known about him, Bullock sounds like the kind of man the reverend would go out of his way to help, says Cunha.

"He allowed people that were downtrodden and perhaps not in a great space to use the facilities," said Cunha. Freed sometimes used the church as a homeless shelter "when it was really necessary."

"He might have very well invited him in," said Cunha.

Freed was aware of the risks of opening the church to strangers from possibly rougher backgrounds. Cunha said he even talked to the reverend about the practice, calling it a "double-edged sword."

"He realized that there were sometimes some risk involved in that, but he had a way to monitor that, and he also used the power of his personality to address some of those issues," said Cunha.

Freed was found dead inside St. Bernard Parish Church on New Year's Day at around 9 a.m.

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