Authorities have nabbed a man they believe killed a Roman Catholic priest during a "violent struggle" in a Northern California church rectory, police said.
The suspect, Gary Lee Bullock, was arrested early Thursday afternoon in the southern part of Humboldt County near Garberville, said Eureka Police Chief Andy Mills.
"There's no question in our mind he's responsible for this heinous act," Mills told CNN's Jake Tapper, citing evidence recovered at the crime scene and interviews with eyewitnesses allegedly linking Bullock to the death of the Rev. Eric Freed.
Hours earlier, Mills announced that an arrest warrant had been issued for the 43-year-old Bullock and asked for the public's help in tracking him down as well as a 2010 Nissan hybrid belonging to the slain priest.
Freed's body was found inside the rectory of Eureka's St. Bernard Church having suffered "blunt force trauma."
His gruesome death was ruled a homicide by the county coroner on Thursday and a full autopsy was set for Saturday.
The case rattled many in and around the North Coast city whether they were members of the parish where Freed served, part of the nearby public university where he taught or from the community at large.
"Eric knew as well as anybody just how senseless violence could be," said Wiliam Herbrechtsmeier, a professor at Humboldt State University, where Freed was a lecturer. "When a fine person like him is brought down - that's just tragic."
Mills said Thursday that authorities still didn't have a motive for the killing, speculating it was likely "a crime of opportunity."
"To me, why is the biggest thing that we would like to establish - to bring a sense of ease and comfort to the community," the police chief said. "But right now, I'm just glad that this incident is done, it is over with, he's in custody (and) the public can take a deep breath."
John Chiv said that he and other St. Bernard parishioners are shocked and "angry" about Freed's death, adding, "It's hard to feel Christian because ... it was brutal."
Said Chiv of a man he described 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."