Priest's Alleged Killer Released by Police Just Before Murder Occurred

Priest's Alleged Killer Released by Police Just Before Murder Occurred

The man who allegedly murdered Rev. Eric Freed, a northern California priest, was arrested for public intoxication, taken to a hospital for evaluation because of his erratic behavior, jailed, and then released just before the killing occurred. 

Gary Lee Bullock, 43, of Redway, was arrested Tuesday for public intoxication in Garberville, then transferred to jail in Eureka, 67 miles farther north. His behavior was strange enough for police to transfer him to a hospital for evaluation, where his agitation was so great he was sent back to jail, held eight hours, then released just after midnight.

At 2 a.m., Eureka police received a call and went to find a suspicious person just blocks from the jail and five yards from the rectory at St. Bernard Church, where Freed’s body was later found. They found Bullock, but he wasn’t intoxicated, so they couldn’t use an emergency psychological hold. Instead, they sent him to an emergency shelter for the rest of the night. Later, a security guard heard someone near the church and saw someone police believe was Bullock. They told him to exit the premises.

Freed’s body was found during the day Wednesday in the rectory of the church. His body had no evidence of blunt force trauma, though police did see signs of forced entry and a struggle.

Nicholas Pacilio, a spokesman for the state attorney general, explained that under California law, people thought dangerous can be held without their permission for up to 72 hours to receive mental health treatment. Police have to show evidence that the criteria for deeming someone dangerous are met. That person is then taken to a mental health facility or hospital where a mental health professional decides if he can be held there. 

The Times-Standard newspaper reported that Bullock was arrested for cocaine possession and was found guilty of two misdemeanors in April 2013.

Freed had taught at Humboldt State University since 2007. He was an inspiration to many, including Karli Kauffman, a former student, who said, “He was my mentor. He taught me to have faith in humanity. To have someone kill a man who taught that and truly lived it every day makes me sick to my stomach.”

Laurie Lynch, a former parishioner of Freed’s in Arcata, asked him to perform her wedding. She said, “It’s a horrible, horrible loss for everyone in our community. He was a great man.” 

Freed’s friend William Herbrechtsmeier added, “It’s just horrid that someone of his quality would be snuffed out in this way.”

But Lisa Russ, also a parishioner of Freed’s, expressed another sentiment, too. She stated, “Our police do a good job, but something is broken in our system if we can have people arrested and released. We’ve got people here we want to be caring and compassionate towards. But there’s got to be a better way.”