Beloved California priest was beaten to death with a metal gutter pipe and a wooden stake according to his autopsy. Investigators aren’t ready to release more details surrounding the pulverizing death of Reverend Eric Freed pending further investigation. Freed was killed in the Northern California city of Eureka on January 1.
Freed’s body was found inside the rectory of St. Bernard Church on New Year’s Day. Andy Mills, Eureka Police Chief, said at that time Freed had suffered blunt force trauma.
Mills said Gary Lee Bullock of Humboldt County was seen on surveillance video from outside the church and rectory. He broke a side window to get inside the rectory. Mills said there was no doubt that Bullock was responsible for the heinous act.
A security guard, who did not work for the church, was passing by around 2 a.m. on New Year’s Day and saw Bullock on the church grounds. Being suspicious of Bullock’s presence the security guard called the police.
Law enforcement confronted Bullock when they arrived; after checking his jail papers and performing a sobriety test decided he was not competent enough mentally to be in public. The officer referred Bullock to a local shelter, which was several blocks away.
Earlier on New Year’s Eve Bullock had been arrested for public intoxication but was released from jail very early New Year’s morning. Sherriff’s deputies had received reports of a person in Garberville acting strangely. He was initially taken to jail where he was rejected due to his erratic behavior.
From there he was transferred to a hospital nearby where he had to be physically restrained by deputies due to his behavior. Eventually he was returned to jail around 4:30 p.m. and remained there more than eight hours before he was released around 12:45 a.m. The jail is not far from the St. Bernard Catholic Church.
The same security guard saw Bullock again around 3:30 a.m. and advised him to go away but this time he didn’t call the police.
The body of Reverend Eric Freed was discovered on New Year’s morning around 9:00 when he failed to show up to perform mass.
A warrant was issued for Bullock’s arrest and he was in custody just hours later on Thursday. Bullock was charged with murder with a special allegation of torture. He was also charged with arson, auto theft and burglary. Bullock plead not guilty to the charges and, according to court records, his bail was set at $1.2 million.
Authorities still don’t have a solid motive and believe it was likely a “crime of opportunity.” Mills said significant evidence located at the scene suggests that Bullock tried to set the house on fire.
A funeral Mass was held on Monday for the 56-year-old priest who was loved by many. The Mass was held at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Eureka with more than 1,000 in attendance. Bishop Robert F. Vasa was the chief officiate with many priests from around the area present to pay their respects.
The gruesome death of the beloved priest has shaken many in and around the Eureka community. Freed not only served the parishioners of the St. Bernard Catholic Church he also taught at Humboldt State University since 2007.
Just days before his murder the priest sent a personal note to his parishioners wishing them a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. In the note Freed thanked them for praying for and supporting him. He told his parishioners that he was honored and proud to be their pastor.
Even though Freed had not been at St. Bernard’s long he has already made a great impact to the church as well as the city’s Japanese-American community. Mayor Frank Jager said the loss of Freed was tremendous not only for his parishioners but the entire community.
Chairman of Humboldt State University’s religious studies department, professor Stephen Cunha, said “Kind and sensitive are the words that come to mind when thinking of Freed.” Cunha said Freed was a genuinely warm person and to think that he died in this manner brings just layers of shock and grief.
Cunha said Freed was not some stuffy clergymen; he was someone who his students could sit and have a conversation with. He was very involved in the school’s Catholic student group and was loved deeply by them.
The beloved priest, Reverend Eric Freed, considered very loyal, accessible and loving by his parishioners was found dead on New Year’s morning. His autopsy reveals that he was brutally beaten with a wooden stake and metal gutter pipe.
By: Cherese Jackson (Virginia)