(EUREKA, Calif.) — The suspect in the murder of a popular California priest who was found dead in the church rectory was taken into custody Thursday during a traffic stop, according to the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office.
Gary Lee Bullock was a passenger in his stepfather’s truck when deputies pulled the vehicle over for a traffic stop at 12:45 p.m. PT Thursday, Lt. Steve Knight with the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office told ABC News.
Bullock was taken into custody without incident and has since been turned over to authorities in Eureka, Calif., Knight said.
The arrest came hours after an arrest warrant was issued for Bullock in connection with the murder of Eric Freed, a popular priest who was found dead in the rectory at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church on New Year’s Day.
Freed’s body showed signs of “blunt force trauma,” and police said there were signs of forced entry and a “violent struggle” at the crime scene.
Police have not revealed details about a possible motive or an official cause of death.
The pastor’s body was found the next morning after he failed to show up for a 9 a.m. New Year’s mass, authorities said.
In the hours leading up to Freed’s death, police said Bullock had two run-ins with law enforcement officers, who described the suspect’s behavior as “erratic.”
On New Year’s Eve, police said a security guard at St. Bernard’s Catholic Church encountered a disruptive man who matched Bullock’s description and asked him to leave the premises, according to a statement from the Eureka Police Department.
Bullock was arrested for public intoxication on Dec. 31 and taken to a hospital for an evaluation after authorities said his behavior was too erratic to book him into jail.
After a hospital evaluation, police said Bullock was taken to jail and released just after midnight on Jan. 1.
Less than two hours later, Eureka police said they responded to a call regarding a “suspicious person,” where they encountered Bullock. He was taken to an emergency shelter for the night, police said.
The killing of Freed, a beloved pastor, sent shockwaves through his parish.
“He was a real caring person. Willing to help anybody at all times,” Eureka Mayor Frank Jager said. “The community is devastated. These kinds of things just don’t happen here.”
Freed, who was installed at St. Bernard’s in 2011, also taught religious studies at Humboldt State University.
An official at St. Bernard’s told ABC News that Freed was planning to use his Wednesday-morning sermon to announce his goals for the New Year. The church said the sermon urged parishioners to be happy, thankful and aware that faith is about understanding it’s all in God’s hands.
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