Authorities said they have arrested Gary Lee Bullock, 43, of Redway in the bludgeoning death of Rev. Eric Freed.
Officials are still investigating a motive in the killing, but Bullock had been in and out of police custody in the hours leading up to Freed's death.
Bullock was first arrested by Humboldt County deputies for public intoxication in Garberville and taken 67 miles north to jail in Eureka, where he was "rejected due to his erratic behavior." Bullock was then taken to a hospital for an evaluation and became so agitated that deputies had to restrain him. He was booked into jail for about eight hours, then released shortly after midnight.
At 2 a.m. Thursday, Eureka Police responded to a call about a suspicious person a couple blocks from the jail - and a stone's throw from Freed's church - where officers found Bullock. Officers referred Bullock to an emergency shelter for the night. Later that evening, a security guard heard noise near the church and went to investigate. He saw a man matching Bullock's description and, after a short conversation, told him to leave the property, police said.
It is not clear exactly when Freed was killed as he was last seen during Tuesday evening Mass and found at 9 a.m. Thursday at St. Bernard Church rectory after he didn't show up for early morning Mass, police said. An autopsy is scheduled for Saturday.
Investigators found signs of forced entry and a struggle. Police are searching for Freed's missing 2010 Nissan hybrid.
Bullock is described as 6'1 and 195 pounds with a last known address in Southern Humboldt County.
"The reverend was a victim of a violent crime," Eureka police Chief Andrew Mills said. "We're not sure on the motive but don't believe it was a robbery at this point."
Freed had taught classes on religion at Humboldt State University since 2007, including "Introduction to Christianity" and a class on Japanese calligraphy. Humboldt State is a small university of 8,000 students near Redwood National Park, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.
Colleague William Herbrechtsmeier described his friend as a man of keen intellect who had a robust laugh and wide-ranging interests, including sports.
"It's just horrid that someone of his quality would be snuffed out in this way," he said.
Freed grew up in Southern California and graduated from Loyola Marymount University. He completed his graduate studies in linguistics while in Italy, where he also learned how to speak Italian.
Freed also worked on a book related to the bombing of Hiroshima, helping a survivor translate haikus about the experience and providing commentary. When the book was published a few years ago, Humboldt State held a conference on genocide and violence.
Humboldt is a diverse community known for dairy farming, fishing, a declining logging industry and marijuana and methamphetamine production.