Police have arrested a man sought in the slaying of a Roman Catholic priest during a “violent struggle” in a church rectory in Eureka.
The body of Rev. Eric Freed was found on New Year’s Day inside the rectory of St. Bernard Church having suffered “blunt force trauma,” Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills told CNN.
Gary Lee Bullock, 43, was taken into custody Thursday, just hours after a warrant was issued for his arrest.
“There’s no question in our mind he’s responsible for this heinous act,” Mills said.
Bullock was arrested on New Year’s Eve for public intoxication and released at 12:45 a.m. on New Year’s Day, Eureka police said in a press release.
Less than two hours later, Bullock was spotted at St. Bernard Church at which time he was referred to a shelter, police said.
The priest’s body was discovered around 9 a.m. that morning when he failed to appear to perform mass.
Authorities still don’t have a motive for the killing, saying it was likely “a crime of opportunity.”
Parishioner John Chiv told CNN that he and others who attend St. Bernard were shocked and angry about Freed’s death saying, “It’s hard to feel Christian because … it was brutal.”
Chiv described Freed as “very jovial, … very accessible (and) very loving”: “We lost a pastor, we lost a friend and, for many of us, he was like a father figure,” he said.
Freed grew up in Covina and graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 1979, according to an Associated Press report.
A full autopsy was set for Saturday.
CNN contributed to this report.