California authorities say a suspect has been arrested in the killing of a beloved Catholic priest who was found dead in a church rectory on New Year's Day.
A statement released by Eureka police said 43-year-old Gary Lee Bullock of Redway was taken into custody on Thursday by Humboldt County deputies in the killing of the Rev. Eric Freed.
Bullock had been named in an arrest warrant. The statement said he had been in and out of police custody in the hours before Freed died.
According to police, Bullock was arrested for public intoxication on Tuesday and taken to jail where he was "rejected due to his erratic behavior." Bullock was then transported to a hospital for evaluation and then ultimately taken back to jail, where he was released shortly after midnight on New Year's Day. A security guard was alerted to noise in the area of the church a few hours later and spotted a man matching Bullock's description. After a short conversation, the guard ordered the man to leave the premises.
Freed's body was discovered Wednesday morning after he failed to show up for the 9 a.m. Mass. Eureka Mayor Frank Jager told FoxNews.com that Freed's 2010 silver Nissan Hybrid is missing from the rectory. The California license plate number of the vehicle is 6NDW400.
The Eureka Police Department revealed there was forced entry at the rectory and that a violent struggle ensued. While a cause of death has yet to be determined, police said it appears Freed was the victim of blunt force trauma. The murder occurred sometime between Tuesday evening when parishioners left evening services and Wednesday morning.
Authorities are scouring the area for any sign of Bullock, 43, who is described as a 6-foot 1 white male with dark hair, weighing approximately 195 pounds. His last known address is in Redway, Calif., police said.
The community of Eureka, meanwhile, is in a state of shock over Freed's death.
"Every once in a while, you meet one of those people who is truly wonderful — someone you’d like to clone and fill the world with," Jager said. "He was one of those people."
Freed, who lived in Japan for more than 20 years, spoke several languages. In addition to serving as pastor, he taught religious studies at Humboldt State University, where he was also director of the campus Newman Center.
Freed joined St. Bernard's Parish as pastor in August 2011.
"He was a great speaker," Jager said. "People just loved listening to him."
The mayor also confirmed that there was a report of unlawful entry at Sacred Heart Church, another church in Eureka, on New Year's Day. The intruder fled before police had a chance to respond, he said. It's unclear if that incident is related to Freed's murder.
Anyone with information on Bullock's whereabouts or the location of Freed's car is urged to contact Detective Sergeant Bill Nova 707-268-5261.