A Southern Humboldt man has been charged in the New Year’s Day murder of the pastor of one of Eureka’s most iconic churches.
Police believe Father Eric Freed, the pastor of St. Bernard’s church in Eureka, was murdered sometime in the early hours of New Year’s Day in the church’s next-door rectory, where he lived. Gary Lee Bullock, a 43-year-old resident of the Redway area who grew up in Southern Humboldt, has been charged with the killing.
Bullock was arrested on Jan. 2, not long after Eureka Police Andy Mills asked for the media’s help in distributing a mug shot photo. Lt. Steve Knight of the Humboldt Sheriff’s Office said Bullock was arrested at about 12: 45 p.m. by sheriff’s deputies as his step-father was driving him to a location where police were waiting.
Knight said Bullock didn’t know he was on his way to be arrested and that his family was cooperative in effecting the apprehension. Sheriff’s deputies made a traffic stop on Elk Ridge Road in Briceland, near the family’s residence, to carry out Bullock’s arrest.
It was one in a series of interactions Bullock had with police.
Knight said that Bullock first came to law enforcement attention at about 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, when a resident of a mobile home park on West Coast Road in the greater Garberville area called to report a man hiding in the bushes and “acting bizarre.”
A deputy and a sergeant responded, Knight continued. The sergeant knew Bullock and was able to coax him out of the bushes. “He appeared to be under the influence of a controlled substance,” Knight said, and Bullock was arrested for disorderly conduct due to public intoxication and violation of summary (unsupervised) probation for a previous misdemeanor drug possession offence.
Once at the county jail in Eureka, Bullock became “combative,” said Knight, attempting to kick out the windows of the patrol car he was transported in. Bullock was deemed to be in need of medical clearance after a jail nurse noted that his heart was racing, Knight continued.
Bullock was taken to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Eureka, where his allegedly combative behavior resumed, necessitating restraint by police officers. But he was medically cleared and booked into county jail at about 4:30pm.
He was held until about 12:42am on New Year’s Day, and released on his own recognizance.
Bullock’s behavior continued to draw attention. At the press conference, Mills said Eureka police responded to the area of the church, which is not far from the jail, at about 2am after someone called to report a person behaving strangely. Police located Bullock at the church, found that he didn’t qualify for another public intoxication arrest or emergency hold, and advised him to stay overnight at an emergency shelter.
“Later that evening, a security guard heard noise in the area of the church and went to investigate,” said Mills. “He saw a person matching Bullock’s description and directed him to leave the property after a very short conversation.” Bullock complied.
At about 9am, church parishioners checked on Freed because he didn’t arrive to lead the morning’s mass. Police were summoned and Freed’s death was confirmed.
Mills said Freed appeared to have had “significant blunt force trauma,” a conclusion that was later confirmed as the cause of death by the county Coroner’s Office. Police believe Bullock forced an entry into the rectory and murdered Freed after a “violent struggle,” Mills continued.
He said the motive for the crime was not known. Freed’s vehicle was missing and was found the day of Bullock’s arrest. Knight said it was located in Southern Humboldt, in a wooded area near Bullock’s family’s residence.
Reporters at the press conference asked about the circumstances of Bullock’s initial medical assessment, incarceration and release. Mills said arrests for misdemeanor charges like disorderly conduct/intoxication result in brief jail stays, as per state code.
County Sheriff Mike Downey said the evaluation of Bullock was based only on physical concerns due to high blood pressure. “There was never a psychological evaluation sought or requested, nor where there any signs that would lead us to request that kind of evaluation,” he continued.
Mills said police aren’t releasing information about what weapon is believed to have been used or the specifics of the forced entry, “Because at some point, we’re going to have to interview additional people, including the suspect.”
Mills added that there’s an abundance of evidence linking Bullock to the crime scene, including video evidence. Investigators have recovered the weapon that’s believed to have been used in the killing, he said.
Bullock’s past doesn’t include “a significant history of violence,” said Mills. Knight said Bullock had been known to the Sheriff’s Office both as a victim of crimes and as a suspect.
Monday Bullock entered a plea of Not Guilty.