A Redway man suspected in the killing of Rev. Eric Freed at the St. Bernard Church rectory in Eureka was arrested Thursday in the Briceland area after his family surrendered him to law enforcement.
”We contacted his family, and they told us where he was,” Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said.
Gary Lee Bullock, 43, was taken into custody without incident less than two hours after Mills announced that a warrant for his arrest had been issued during a morning press conference. Freed's dark gray Nissan Altima was also located near a Briceland area house owned by one of Bullock's family members, EPD officials said.
Bullock was arrested during a felony traffic stop initiated by Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies while he was a passenger in his stepfather's truck, according to sheriff's office Lt. Steve Knight.
”He did not resist arrest at that point,” he said.
Mills said Bullock matched the description of a man confronted on church grounds by a security guard in the early morning hours Wednesday. Freed was found at 9 a.m. that day when he didn't arrive for Mass.
At the rectory, there was evidence of forced entry and a “violent struggle.” A cause of death has not been determined, but Freed appeared to suffer from “significant blunt force trauma,” Mills said.
The suspected murder weapon and evidence the department believes directly connects Bullock to the crime were found at the scene, he said. Video was also recovered.
”We don't know the motive for the crime,” Mills said.
An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday.
Less than nine hours elapsed between Bullock's release from jail and the discovery of Freed's body. During that time, he came into contact with EPD officers responding to a suspicious person at the parish office at 2 a.m., and a church security guard reported confronting a man who matched Bullock's description later in the early morning hours.
Bullock had been arrested for public intoxication Tuesday after deputies responded to a call reporting a man “acting strangely” in the Garberville area. Bullock was rejected by the jail due to his “erratic behavior” and was taken to a local hospital for evaluation where he became more agitated and had to be restrained by deputies, according to Mills.
Bullock was ultimately booked into the jail at 4:34 p.m. Tuesday and released at 12:43 a.m. on Wednesday.
The EPD officers who contacted Bullock on Wednesday referred him to an emergency shelter after determining he was not intoxicated and did not qualify for an emergency psychological hold, Mills said during the morning press conference.
Humboldt County court records show Bullock was arrested for cocaine possession and pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor in April. He was sentenced to three years probation.
Mills said there does not appear to be any connection between Freed's death and a Wednesday incident at Sacred Heart Church on Myrtle Avenue, where an employee reported an unlawful entry after opening the church door to find a man inside. Humboldt County Sheriff's Office Lt. Dave Morey said the unidentified man fled the scene as the employee called police.
There has been an outpouring of grief over Freed's death. A popular priest, Freed also taught in the Religious Studies Department at Humboldt State University -- where students remembered him as a dedicated teacher who opened their eyes to other cultures. He was also director of the campus Newman Center.
”Sad to hear,” one Times-Standard reader wrote. “Father Eric was a Great Man! He will be missed and loved by many.”
A timeline of events in the Bullock case
A timeline of events leading up to the arrest of Gary Lee Bullock on suspicion of killing Father Eric Freed:
Dec. 31, 2013
4:34 p.m. Bullock booked into jail on suspicion of public intoxication. Earlier, Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies respond to reports of a person acting strangely in the Garberville area of southern Humboldt County. Humboldt County deputies located and arrested Bullock for public intoxication. Taken to jail, he was rejected due to erratic behavior, then taken to a hospital for evaluation. There, he became more agitated and had to be physically restrained by deputies, before being returned to jail for booking.
12:34 a.m. Bullock is released from jail.
2 a.m. Eureka Police Department officers dispatched to the St. Bernard parish office on reports of a suspicious person made contact with Bullock. Finding that Bullock was not intoxicated, and did not qualify for an emergency psychological hold, officers referred Bullock to an emergency shelter for the night.
Some time later, a security guard investigates a noise on the church grounds and directs a man matching Bullock's description to leave the property after a short conversation.
9 a.m. St. Bernard Church parishioners gather at the church for Mass. When Freed doesn't arrive, Deacon Frank Weber looks for him. Officers are dispatched to the church rectory shortly thereafter, where they find Freed deceased. Freed's Nissan Altima is also reported missing.
11:30 a.m. The EPD announces an arrest warrant for Bullock has been issued in connection with Freed's murder. EPD Chief Andrew Mills said Freed suffered blunt force trauma injuries, and there was forced entry into the parsonage where a violent struggle ensued. The exact cause of death has yet to be determined and an autopsy is scheduled for Saturday.
12:30 p.m. Bullock's family surrenders him to Humboldt County Sheriff's Office deputies in the Briceland area. Freed's Altima is found near a home belonging to one of Bullock's family members, EPD officials said.