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Eureka hit hard by priest's slaying

  • John Chiv, Wednesday Jan. 8, 2014, a member of St. Bernards Catholic Church and Parish in Eureka for the past 10 years, prays at the grave of Rev. Eric Freed, who was bludgeoned to death allegedly by Gary Lee Bullock on New Years Day in the church rectory. Freed is buried at St Bernard's Catholic Cemetery in Eureka. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2014

The night before he was bludgeoned to death, the Rev. Eric Freed told his congregation at St. Bernard Catholic Church that he soon would be leaving town for a couple days.

"I'm going to go away to a secret place. But don't worry, I'll be back," Freed said, according to parishioner David Silverbrand.

The choir and pianist who normally play the recessional hymn were off that night -#8212; New Year's Eve -#8212; so Freed did something unusual as he exited: He walked out singing a hymn in Japanese, a language he learned while living in Japan.

Eureka Mourns Rev. Eric Freed

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"It was the strangest and most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Silverbrand said. "That was the last time I saw him until the funeral."

Just hours before Freed said goodbye to his congregation, the man now accused of killing him was creating a very different sort of scene in the small town of Redway, about an hour south of Eureka.

Gary Lee Bullock, 44, a longtime resident of the town, was hiding in bushes and yelling in a deranged manner, callers told sheriff's deputies. A couple who live across the street from where Bullock was staying said he pushed his way into their home, threatening them and claiming to be looking for his wife. He searched the small residence, including inside the microwave.

By early the next morning, the trajectories of the two men had intersected violently, police say. Freed, a man admired for his humor, intellectual curiosity and involvement in the community, was found dead in the church rectory at around 9a.m.

Soon after, Bullock was named as the primary suspect, and he was arrested within hours.

The slaying of a beloved priest in his home has shocked people along the North Coast, including in Sonoma County where Freed spent time as a priest. St. Joseph Church in Cotati, where Freed worked and many still remember him, will hold a memorial Mass for him at 11 a.m., Feb. 1.

But for Eureka, a close-knit coastal town of about 27,000 people, the shock isn't just that Freed was a priest -#8212; it is that a vital member of the community has been lost. Many people are asking what, if anything, could have been done to prevent Freed's death, particularly since Bullock came in contact with law enforcement twice in the day leading up to the killing.


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