The mayor of Eureka said the popular priest who was killed and left for dead in the church rectory well-liked and admired.
Eureka officials Thursday arrested Gary Lee Bullock in connection with the killing of the Rev. Eric Freed, whose body was found inside St. Bernard Church on New Year's Day after he failed to show up for a Mass.
Police say Freed parishioners found Freed “badly injured” and that he appeared to have suffered from blunt force trauma.
“It’s an incredible tragedy for the community and for the local Catholic church here. It’s gut-wrenching," Eureka Mayor Frank Jager told The Times. "When you think about how he’s not going to be there, and the way it happened, it’s just a complete tragedy.”
Freed's death stunned the city, where he was known for being active, particularly in the Japanese community. Upon hearing the news, many parishioners gathered outside the church on Wednesday to grieve.
“During your lifetime you meet a few individuals that stand out," Jager said. "There’s a few people that I’d like to clone and spread around the world, and Father Eric was one of those people.
“He could talk to and meet anybody and relate to them instantly.”
Freed was found dead on the same day the main suspect in his killing was released from jail. Bullock had been jailed on suspicion of being drunk in public on New Year's Eve, according to Eureka police.
The jail at first had refused to take Bullock because of elevated blood pressure and erratic behavior, so he was sent to a hospital for medical evaluation.
After an examination, Bullock was jailed, held for several hours and released on New Year’s Day. Later that day, someone matching Bullock’s description was seen by a security guard in the area of St. Bernard Church and was told to leave, according to police.
Hours after going public with Bullock's photo and arrest warrant on Thursday, Eureka police said they were notified about 12:45 p.m. that he had been taken into custody by Humboldt County sheriff's deputies.