HURLEY, Wis. – A 31-year-old Roman Catholic priest who had been questioned by police in two gunshot slayings has killed himself, church officials said Monday.
The Rev. Ryan Erickson (search) was found dead in a hallway between his church and rectory at St. Mary of the Seven Dolors (search) on Sunday morning. Police were investigating and declined to release further information.
The Rev. Philip Heslin, moderator of the Curia for the Catholic Diocese of Superior, the equivalent of the diocese's chief operating officer, said Erickson hung himself.
Police in Hudson recently questioned Erickson about the slayings of Dan O'Connell and James Ellison, but the priest denied involvement, Heslin said.
O'Connell and Ellison were found fatally shot at the O'Connell Family Funeral Home (search) in February 2002; O'Connell was the director and Ellison was an intern there.
"We knew he was being investigated," Heslin said in a telephone interview. "But that's all we knew. I talked to him two days before this happened and he seemed in good spirits."
Heslin said he wasn't aware detectives had any conclusive evidence tying Erickson to the shootings. "They told us not to say anything about this," he said, adding the investigation was still active.
Hudson Police Chief Richard Trende did not return messages Monday.
Heslin said St. Mary parishioners "were in dismay."
"He was just the ultimate priest," Helen Kasper of Hurley, one of Erickson's parishioners, told the Daily Globe of Ironwood, Mich. "He was very strict in what he wanted done. He was very faithful to his religion."