Suspect Arrested in Killing of Northern Calif. Priest

By NBC Bay Area Staff and Wire Services
|  Thursday, Jan 2, 2014  |  Updated 6:46 PM CDT
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Must See: New Year's Celebrations Around the World

Rev. Eric Freed

Photos and Videos
More Photos and Videos

Police arrested a suspect Thursday in the killing of a respected priest and educator who was found dead on New Year's Day in a church rectory in Northern California.

Gary Lee Bullock, 43, of Redway was taken into custody by Humboldt County deputies in the killing of the Rev. Eric Freed, according to a statement by Eureka police.

Police said Bullock had been in and out of police custody in the hours before Freed died and had been sent to a hospital for an exam because of his erratic behavior.

Freed's body was found in the St. Bernard Church rectory after he failed to show up for morning Mass. Officials were still seeking a motive in the killing.

Bullock was initially arrested on Tuesday for public intoxication in Garberville and taken 67 miles north to jail in Eureka. His erratic behavior led police to send him to a hospital for an evaluation.

He became agitated and deputies had to restrain him. He was booked into jail for about eight hours then released shortly after midnight.

At 2 a.m. Wednesday, Eureka police responded to a call about a suspicious person a couple blocks from the jail and about five yards from the church where Freed was found. Police said Bullock wasn't intoxicated then and didn't qualify for an emergency psychological hold.

Officers referred him to an emergency shelter for the night.

Later, a security guard heard noise near the church and went to investigate. He saw a man matching Bullock's description and after a short conversation told him to leave the property, police said.

It is not clear exactly when or how Freed was killed. His body showed signs of blunt force trauma. Investigators also found signs of forced entry and a struggle at the church.

An arrest warrant was issued Thursday for Bullock, who was found again in the Garberville area. Freed's car also was discovered.

"The reverend was a victim of a violent crime,'' Eureka police Chief Andrew Mills said. ``We're not sure on the motive but don't believe it was a robbery at this point.''

Freed had taught classes on religion at Humboldt State University since 2007, including ``Introduction to Christianity'' and a class on Japanese calligraphy. Humboldt State is a small university of 8,000 students near Redwood National Park, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

Colleague William Herbrechtsmeier described his friend as a man of keen intellect who had a robust laugh and wide-ranging interests, including sports.

"It's just horrid that someone of his quality would be snuffed out in this way,'' he said.

Eureka Mayor Frank Jager said Freed was a close friend and a well-liked member of the community.

"This is an absolutely tremendous loss, not only for the St. Bernard's parish, but for our community in general," Jager said.

Freed grew up in Southern California and graduated from Loyola Marymount University. He completed his graduate studies in linguistics while in Italy, where he also learned how to speak Italian.

Freed also worked on a book related to the bombing of Hiroshima, helping a survivor translate haikus about the experience and providing commentary. When the book was published a few years ago, Humboldt State held a conference on genocide and violence.

Humboldt is a diverse community known for dairy farming, fishing, a declining logging industry and marijuana and methamphetamine production.

An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday.

Get the latest headlines sent to your inbox!
View Comments (
)
|
Email
|
Print
Leave Comments
Follow Us
Sign up to receive news and updates that matter to you.
Send Us Your Story Tips
Check Out