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Eureka priest died from blunt force trauma, coroner says

Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeReligion and BeliefNew Year's Day

The popular priest who was found dead in his Eureka parish last week died of blunt force injuries to a "substantial part of his body," the county coroner has determined.

The Rev. Eric Freed was found dead inside the St. Bernard Church rectory on New Year's Day after he failed to show up for a Mass, shocking the small Northern California community where he taught college courses on religion and often advocated on behalf of the homeless.

Gary Lee Bullock, 43, was slated to be arraigned Monday in connection with the death, just hours after a memorial service for Freed, according to Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills.

The church, where Freed served for more than five years, was reopened Friday after crime scene investigators were finished, Mills said, but the investigation is ongoing.

“We’re just moving forward to make sure the evidence is collected and analyzed correctly,” Mills said.

Humboldt County Coroner David Parris said an autopsy was completed Saturday afternoon, and that Freed “suffered injuries on a substantial part of his body.” The cause of death was blunt force trauma.

Additional details are expected to be released in the next few days, Parris added.

Bullock was arrested Thursday afternoon near Redway, about an hour from Eureka, reportedly while en route with his stepfather to turn himself in, Mills said. The priest's car was found nearby.

The arrest occurred just hours after police named him as a suspect in Freed’s killing, and little more than a day after he’d had two run-ins with local authorities.

The day before, police said, Bullock had been arrested for public intoxication and booked into the county jail, just a couple of blocks from Freed's church.

Humboldt County sheriff's offiicals released him after midnight on New Year’s Day, and Eureka police found Bullock in the vicinity of the church a couple of hours later, authorities said.

Police officers determined at the time that Bullock was not intoxicated and didn’t qualify for an emergency psychological hold, Mills said, so they referred him to an emergency shelter.

A couple of hours later, a security guard instructed a person matching Bullock's description to leave after spotting him on the church grounds.

Parishioners found Freed’s body later that morning.

Mayor Frank Jager, who considered Freed a personal friend, called the priest's death a "complete tragedy."

"It's gut-wrenching when you think about how he's not going to be there, and the way it happened," Jager told The Times.

The church remained open through the weekend as parishioners gathered to mourn and reflect.

“He was a gregarious, accepting and interesting person. He was always around people,” said Stephen Cunha, chairman of the Department of Religious Studies at Humboldt State University, where Freed taught.

“He’s cast a wide net around this community.”

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christine.maiduc@latimes.com

Twitter: @cmaiduc

 

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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Law EnforcementCrime, Law and JusticeReligion and BeliefNew Year's Day
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