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Church Murder Mystery Ends With Arrest In Humboldt County

Church murder of priest Eric Freed

The church murder mystery in the small northern California of community of Eureka has been at least partially solved with the arrest Thursday of Gary Lee Bullock, 43, CNN reports.

Bullock was in police custody on New Year’s Day, just hours before police say he bludgeoned a beloved local priest and teacher, Reverend Eric Freed, to death in a church rectory. The mystery that remains is why Bullock might have killed the 56-year-old clergyman, who also taught in the Religious Studies Department at Humboldt State University.

Freed’s body was discovered at 9 am New Year’s morning in the rectory of St. Bernard Church, in the town of 29,000 people on the California coast. Police say Bullock committed the church murder by beating Freed with a blunt object during what they called a “violent struggle.”

Police found what they say is the murder weapon at the scene, though they have not released further details.

Bullock was previously known to law enforcement authorities in the Humboldt County area, though he has no known history of violent behavior, according to the Eureka Times Standard newspaper. In April of 2013, Bullock was arrested for cocaine possession.

But police also had Bullock in custody just hours before the church murder. According to a CBS News report, Bullock was busted early New Year’s Eve by Humboldt County sheriff’s deputies for being drunk in public. They arrested him in Garberville, about 70 miles south of Eureka, but took him north to the coastal town where he was held.

Deputies then transported Bullock to a hospital to be evaluated, but he started going crazy and they had to restrain him. They took him back to jail in Eureka and held him for about eight hours before releasing him shortly after midnight.

Unfortunately, setting Bullock free appears to have sealed the fate of the popular local priest.

Less that two hours after Bullock was set free, police got a call about a person acting strangely near St. Bernard Church. The responded and found it was Bullock again. But again, they let him go. According to deputies, because Bullock was not intoxicated at the time, they had no authority to arrest him or hold him on an emergency basis.

They referred him to a homeless shelter, but he apparently did not go.

Some time later, a security guard at the church noticed a person later determined to match Bullock’s description lurking around the grounds. The guard kicked him out. But according to the deputies’ account, at some point Bullock forced his way back into the church grounds and for some reason, confronted and killed Freed.

Deputies tracked Bullock to his family’s home in Briceland, California, where his family members willingly turned him over, to be charged with the New Year’s Day church murder.

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