Just one day after a popular Roman Catholic priest was found murdered in his California rectory, authorities have arrested a man believed to be the murderer.
The suspect, Gary Lee Bullock, was arrested on suspicion of murder in the killing of Father Eric Freed, pastor of St. Bernard Catholic Church and a lecturer and Newman Center director at Humboldt State University. Bullock had been sought after a security guard reported encountering someone who fit his description on the property and asking him to leave, and after evidence and eyewitness testimony linked him to the crime scene.
Bullock seems to have been a troubled man. On New Year’s Eve, he’d been reported to police in nearby Garberville for public intoxication. Officers arrested him and transported him to jail, but he was rejected there due to his erratic behavior. He was then moved to a nearby hospital, where he became even more agitated and had to be restrained by deputies. He was finally booked into a jail shortly after 4:30 p.m. that day, and stayed there for over eight hours until his release at 12:43 a.m. January 1. Less than two hours later, police received a call regarding a suspicious person at St. Bernard Church. The responding officers found Bullock, but he wasn’t intoxicated and didn’t qualify for emergency psychological hold, so he was referred to a shelter. Later in the night, he was seen by a guard at St. Bernard’s and told to leave the premises.
A few hours later, at 9 a.m., church staff and a parishioner, who happened to be a doctor, found Father Freed’s body in the rectory, the victim of blunt force trauma. The police were called once again, and police and the doctor, who happened to be at the church for morning Mass, determined that Fr. Freed was already dead. There were signs of forced entry at the rectory, and signs that a struggle had occurred.
Tributes have poured in for the priest whose ministry touched so many lives–in the parish, the community (especially the Japanese-American community), and the university.