CHATHAM, N.J. – Authorities investigating the killing of a New Jersey priest say they're questioning several witnesses, but won't reveal whether they've identified a suspect.
The Rev. Ed Hinds was found dead Friday morning in his clerical robes in the rectory of his northern New Jersey parish.
The 61-year-old pastor of St. Patrick's Church in Chatham appeared to be brewing a cup of coffee when he was killed.
Authorities also warned people to be "hypervigilant" as they continued their search for the killer.
They aren't revealing details of the crime, but say the priest's work with the needy may have made him vulnerable.
"Until a suspect is caught, people should be hypervigilant," said Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi, noting that Hinds' injuries were significant.
Bianchi was tightlipped about the details of the crime, but said preliminary autopsy results confirm that Hinds was the victim of a homicide, the first violent death in Chatham since a 1990 manslaughter case.
"It makes absolutely no sense," said Bishop Arthur Serratelli of the Diocese of Paterson.
No arrests have been made and Bianchi would not comment on whether any suspects have been identified in the death. He said several witnesses were being questioned.
About 300 parishioners who gathered for Mass this morning climbed over knee-high crime scene tape. Many wiped away tears as church leaders remembered the pastor, saying he would have wanted parishioners to go on and find strength in their faith.
The Rev. Owen Moran said Father Hinds planted seeds in the parish for six years, "and now the seeds must grow and continue the mission of Christ in this world."
The pastor was last seen alive around 11 p.m. Thursday, after a safety seminar at the church in which police fingerprinted and photographed young children.
Hinds was found just after 8 a.m. Friday in the rectory kitchen after he failed to appear for morning Mass.
Dazed and angry friends and parishioners have been describing Hinds as a "dedicated, hardworking priest" who was loved by all.
Neighbors gathered in small groups to watch investigators search through piles of leaves and under bushes outside their homes, pulling their coats around them in the autumn wind.
"He was just a good, dedicated, hardworking priest," said the Rev. Genoa Sylvia, 42.
"He was just a magnificent man," said Hinds' cousin Jeannette Miller. "Everybody loved him."
Chatham is a New York City bedroom community of about 10,000 residents.
Hinds, who was born in nearby Morristown, had been at the parish since 2003, after serving at St. Michael Church in Netcong and Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Boonton. He was ordained in 1974.
Following an early stint at St. Patrick's, he went on to become the vice chancellor of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Paterson and secretary to the bishop from 1978 to 1985.