Suspect in California priest's death taken into custody - KYTX CBS 19 Tyler Longview News Weather Sports

Suspect in California priest's death taken into custody

Posted: Updated:

(CNN) -- Authorities have taken into custody a California man who they believe killed a Roman Catholic priest in a church rectory, the police chief said.

Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills announced Thursday that an arrest warrant had been issued for Gary Lee Bullock, asking for the public's help in tracking down him and a 2010 Nissan hybrid belonging to the slain priest.

The previous day, the Rev. Eric Freed was found dead in the rectory at St. Bernard Church in the coastal Northern California city. While he hasn't given a motive, Mills elaborated Thursday that Freed died after suffering "blunt force trauma" following a "violent struggle."

His gruesome death -- which the county coroner official ruled a homicide on Thursday -- has shaken many in and around Eureka, both members of the parish he served, the nearby university where he taught and the community at large.

"Eric knew as well as anybody just how senseless violence could be," said Wiliam Herbrechtsmeier, a professor at Humboldt State University where Freed had taught since 2007. "When a fine person like him is brought down -- that's just tragic."

Bullock wasn't unknown to local authorities; in fact, he'd been in custody earlier on the same day that Freed was found dead.

Police explained that, on New Year's Eve, Humboldt County sheriff's deputies responded to reports of a person "acting strangely" in Garberville. They went to the scene and arrested Bullock for public intoxication, taking him to a jail where "he was rejected due to his erratic behavior," Eureka police said in a press release.

Bullock -- who last known address is in Redway, California -- was then moved to a nearby hospital "where he became more agitated and had to be physically restrained by deputies," police added. He was eventually booked into a jail shortly after 4:30 p.m. that day, staying there for over 8 hours before his release at 12:43 a.m. on January 1.

Less than two hours later, police got a call about a suspicious person at St. Bernard Church. Officers found Bullock but, as he wasn't "intoxicated and did not qualify for an emergency psychological hold," didn't detain him but instead referred him to a shelter, Mills said.

At some point in the hours after that, a guard at Freed's church found a person matching Bullock's description on the premises and told him to leave, police said.

It was at 9 a.m. that authorities were called back to St. Bernard, this time after church staff came across Freed -- who officers and a doctor, who happened to be a parishioner, both determined was already dead. Mills said police later determined there were signs of "forced entry" and the aforementioned struggle.

Hours later, mourning parishioners and community leaders gathered outside the church-turned-crime scene to remember the late priest.

Mayor Frank Jager said Freed was a personal friend and a "tremendous person in this community" since his arrival three years ago. The 56-year-old's loss was felt deeply elsewhere as well.

"He was a really, genuinely warm individual," said professor Stephen Cunha, the chairman of Humboldt State University's religious studies department where Freed taught. "... Kind is the word that comes to mind, sensitive."

Late priest: 'He connected with everybody'

Just a few days ago, the priest sent a note to his parishioners, thanking them for their support and prayers and wishing them a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

"I cannot tell you how proud and honored I am to be your pastor," Freed wrote in a letter posted on the parish website. "Our parish is alive, joyful and full of faith, hope and charity that define us as Catholic Christians."

While he was relatively new to St. Bernard, Freed had already made an impact there and elsewhere around Eureka -- including with the city's Japanese-American community, as Freed lived in Japan for many years -- Jager told reporters.

"This is an absolutely tremendous loss not only for the St. Bernard's Parish, but for our community generally," the mayor said. "For those of us who believe in prayer, this is the time for that."

Freed's ties to Humbodt State went back even longer. A guest lecturer, he wrote a book about the first atomic bomb and also taught about the New Testament, connecting with Christians and non-Christians alike.

"He was very well respected, very well liked and had a tremendous working knowledge as well as academic knowledge," Cunha said. "... To think that he passed in this way: It's just layers of grief and shock."

Herbrechtsmeier said he got to know Freed well not just at Humboldt State but outside as well, often joining the enthusiastic pastor -- a diehard University of Southern California Trojan fan -- to watch sports and enjoy some laughs.

Noting that students at the state university loved Freed -- who was also deeply involved in that school's Catholic student group, the Newman Center -- Cunha added: "This was not some stuffy clergyman. He was very much someone that you could sit down and speak with...

"He connected with everybody."

  • Local NewsMore>>

  • Capital Murder defendant Calvert wheeled, unwilling, into district courtroom

    Capital Murder defendant Calvert wheeled, unwilling, into district courtroom

    Thursday, August 21 2014 6:38 PM EDT2014-08-21 22:38:39 GMT
    James Calvert was wheeled into Judge Jack Skeen Junior's courtroom Thursday afternoon in what appeared to be a catatonic state and seemingly restrained as deputies balanced him on a wheelchair while supporting his legs.More >>
    James Calvert was wheeled into Judge Jack Skeen Junior's courtroom Thursday afternoon in what appeared to be a catatonic state and seemingly restrained as deputies balanced him on a wheelchair while supporting his legs.More >>
  • Officer Involved Shooting Suspect's Mom Speaks Out

    Officer Involved Shooting Suspect's Mom Speaks Out

    Wednesday, August 20 2014 11:13 PM EDT2014-08-21 03:13:22 GMT
    LONGVIEW (KYTX) - Hope Fountain says the shadow of recent events has covered up who her son really was."You'll never replace those hugs and those smiles. He would always be there for you no matter what." - Hope Fountain, Wagner's MotherGregg County Jail Records show that Wagner has a violent past but Fountain says he has regretted his crimes since the day they were committed. In 2013, Wagner plead guilty to terroristic threats of a public servant. Fountain says Wagner was going through a roug...More >>
    LONGVIEW (KYTX) - Hope Fountain says the shadow of recent events has covered up who her son really was."You'll never replace those hugs and those smiles. He would always be there for you no matter what." - Hope Fountain, Wagner's MotherGregg County Jail Records show that Wagner has a violent past but Fountain says he has regretted his crimes since the day they were committed. In 2013, Wagner plead guilty to terroristic threats of a public servant. Fountain says Wagner was going through a roug...More >>
  • Lawmaker, transportation commissioner urge voter passage of Prop 1

    Lawmaker, transportation commissioner urge voter passage of Prop 1

    LONGVIEW (KYTX) - Lawmakers and people in transportation gathered in Longview today,, asking for voter support of a constitutional amendment in November, meant to improve Texas roads. Proposition one, if passed, would divert half of the oil and gas revenue from the state's rainy day fund to TxDOT. Next budget year, that could amount to about 1.4 billion dollars. But speakers at today's transportation forum, hosted by Longview Chamber of Commerce at Pinecrest Country Club, say that's only abou...More >>
    LONGVIEW (KYTX) - Lawmakers and people in transportation gathered in Longview today,, asking for voter support of a constitutional amendment in November, meant to improve Texas roads. Proposition one, if passed, would divert half of the oil and gas revenue from the state's rainy day fund to TxDOT. Next budget year, that could amount to about 1.4 billion dollars. But speakers at today's transportation forum, hosted by Longview Chamber of Commerce at Pinecrest Country Club, say that's only abou...More >>
Powered by WorldNow

CBS19, MYTX & KCEB
2211 ESE Loop 323
Tyler, TX 75701
Phone (903) 581-2211
Fax (903) 581-5769

Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 WorldNow and KYTX. All Rights Reserved. Users of this site agree to the Terms of Service, Privacy Notice/Your California Privacy Rights, and Ad Choices.