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Suspect arrested, town mourns priest's death

Published On: Jan 02 2014 08:15:20 PM CST   Updated On: Jan 02 2014 10:25:06 PM CST
EUREKA, Calif. -

43-year-old Gary Lee Bullock was arrested Thursday in connection with a suspected murder that shook the small coastal town of Eureka, Calif.

Father Eric Freed was found dead inside the rectory of St. Bernard Church Wednesday morning after he failed to show up for morning mass.

At approximately 9 a.m. police officers were dispatched to the church rectory where a deacon found Freed. Officers and a doctor, who is a parishioner, determined Freed was deceased.

“A doctor who belongs to the parish told our officers that the Father was dead,” said Eureka’s Chief of Police Andrew Mills.

Police said their investigation revealed that forced entry had been made into the parsonage and a violent struggle ensued leading to the priest's death.

“Was this a crime of opportunity or a specifically targeted person? We’re just not sure,” said Mills.

Law enforcement quickly identified the suspect as Bullock and released details of the tumultuous night leading up to his being sought in a murder investigation.

According to police, on New Year's Eve someone reported Bullock acting strangely in the Garberville area in southern Humboldt County. Deputies located and arrested Bullock for public intoxication. He was taken to jail where he was rejected due to his erratic behavior.
Bullock was then taken to the hospital for evaluation where he became more agitated and had to be physically restrained by deputies. Bullock was booked into jail at 4:34 p.m.
He was released early on New Year's Day at 12:43 a.m.

“In California, if you’re taken to jail for a misdemeanor such as public intoxication you’re normally kept four hours. Then after that four hours you’re released,” said Mills.

At approximately 2 a.m. officers from the Eureka Police Department were dispatched to 615 H St., regarding a suspicious person. When officers responded they found Bullock and observed he was not intoxicated and did not qualify for an emergency psychological hold. Officers referred Bullock to an emergency shelter for the night.

Later that morning a security guard heard a noise in the area of St. Bernard Church and went to investigate. He saw a person matching Bullock's description and directed him to leave the property after a short conversation.

Security cameras then caught the same man leaving in what was later identified as Freed's vehicle, a grey Nissan Altima hybrid.

Shortly after the body was found, Eureka Mayor Frank Jager announced that the man found dead in the church was Father Freed.

"He was a friend," said an obviously distraught Jager.

Jager said Freed was the type of person that would welcome a man like Bullock, someone who was out in the cold on New Year's Eve, into the church to try and help him.

"The church, of course, is a magnet for homeless people sometimes. People would come there seeking assistance of various kinds and he would always be willing to help them,” said Jager.

After a day-long manhunt Bullock was found in southern Humboldt County where police said family members persuaded him to voluntarily surrender to Humboldt County Sheriff's deputies.

Bullock has been transported back to Eureka where he remains in custody.

The capture of the man police believe killed Freed has done little to ease the pain and shock suffered by members of St. Bernard Church, some of whom were attending mass the day of his death.

“Most of us we were here for 9 a.m. mass,” said John Chiv, a church Parishioner. “You know, we just prayed and after we prayed the police were there by then and we just exited."

“I mean, he’s just – we’re in shock. I don’t think reality has – I mean it’s sinking in. But we’re just in shock,” added Chiv.