Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Catholic priest found killed in California church rectory, suspect nabbed for the murder

 The Eureka Police Department announced today that an arrest warrant has been issued for murder of Father Eric Freed. The suspect is Gary Lee Bullock, who was released from jail at 12:34 a.m. on Jan. 1. and matches description of man seen around church in the early morning hours before Freed was found in the rectory.
The Eureka Police Department announced that an arrest warrant has been issued for Gary Lee Bullock, who is suspected of killing Rev. Eric Freed early New Year's Day.

Cops nabbed the man they say committed in the New Year’s Day murder of a beloved California priest, who was found murdered inside his church’s rectory Wednesday — hours before a break-in at another church a short drive away, police said.

The body of the Rev. Eric Freed was found after he didn’t show up for Mass at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Eureka — located about 275 miles north of San Francisco — about 9 a.m., a parishioner told the Times-Standard.

Cops collared Gary Lee Bullock around 12:30 p.m. Thursday in Garberville, about 70 miles south of Eureka. He was a passenger in his step-father's truck and was arrested without incident during a traffic stop, ABC News reported.

Police said Freed died from blunt force trauma and that the crime scene showed evidence of forced entry and a violent struggle. The pastor's car — a 2010 Nissan Altima — was stolen from the scene.

Bullock was arrested late Tuesday for being drunk in public, but he was freed from lock-up about 12:30 a.m.

“He was being confrontational too,” Mary Kirby, an assistant to Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, told the Los Angeles Times.

A man fitting Bullock’s description was seen around the church hours later. The suspect was believed to be in Freed’s missing car.

“(Freed) was a tremendous person in this community,” Mayor Frank Jager told reporters outside the rectory. “This is an absolutely tremendous loss not only for the St. Bernard’s parish, but for our community in general.”

A few hours after Freed was found dead, cops were called to Sacred Heart Church just two miles away — where an employee found a man rummaging inside the building, the Times-Standard reported.

The suspect fled before police arrived.

Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Dave Morey told the newspaper that investigators were still trying to determine whether the two incidents were connected.

“We have no idea, but we are treating it like it might be, just to be careful,” Morey said.

Freed, who was installed as a pastor in the Northern California church in August 2011, taught in the Religious Studies Department at Humboldt State University for the past decade.

“He was a really, genuinely warm individual,” Stephen Cunha, chairman of the school’s department, told CNN.

“This was not some stuffy clergyman. He was very much someone that you could sit down and speak with. ... He connected with everybody.”

Freed was also deeply involved with the city’s Japanese population.

During the 20 years he spent living in Japan, Freed profiled a Hiroshima bombing survivor, Hiroko Takanashi, as an introduction to a collection of her haikus in the book, “The Experience of the Atomic Bombing of Hiroshima in Poem.”

“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.

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