Suspect arrested in former Petaluma, Cotati priest's killing

  • The Rev. Eric Freed (Diocese of Santa Rosa)

Police arrested a suspect Thursday in the killing of the Rev. Eric Freed, a respected priest and educator who was found dead New Year's Day in a Eureka rectory.

Eureka police said Humboldt County sheriff's deputies had taken Gary Lee Bullock, 43, of Redway, into custody in the death of Freed, 56, who previously served at St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma and St. Joseph Catholic Church in Cotati.

Police said Bullock had been in and out of custody in the hours before Freed died and had been sent to a hospital for an exam because of his erratic behavior. Officials still are seeking a motive in the killing.

Freed's body was found in the rectory of St. Bernard Church, not far from the jail, after he failed to show up for morning Mass.

Colleagues in the Santa Rosa Diocese on Thursday remembered Freed as a warm and humorous man with a natural talent as an educator.

“He was a regular kind of guy, very easy to be with in company,” said Monsignor Dan Whelton, the vicar general of the sprawling diocese, which covers the North Coast all the way to the Oregon border. “He was a good conversationalist, a sincere, decent guy.”

Freed had been with the diocese since 1999. He served in various Sonoma County postings, including St. Vincent de Paul High School and St. Joseph in Cotati, before being transferred to Arcata about eight years ago, Whelton said. He had been pastor in Eureka since 2011.

Office workers at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Petaluma said Thursday that Freed was chaplain briefly at the high school in the early 2000s. They had little additional information, though the office received numerous inquiries from parishioners as news of the killing spread.

Before coming to Sonoma County, Freed had served many years in Japan and did his theological training in Italy. He was fluent in both Japanese and Italian, Whelton said. He translated into English a series of haikus about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima written by a survivor for her book about the experience, according to the Times-Standard newspaper of Eureka. “He was very good with languages,” Whelton said.

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