NO WARNING SHOTS..
FORT BRAGG, Calif. — A
man suspected in the fatal shootings of a Fort Bragg councilman and a
county land trust official was shot and killed Saturday after a massive
manhunt in the redwood forests of Northern California, authorities said.
Mendocino County Sheriff Thomas Allman said Aaron Bassler was shot
seven times some 6 miles east of Fort Bragg after he was sniffed out in
the forest by a bloodhound tracking a nearby burglary. Three members of
the Sacramento County's SWAT team were in the trees above Bassler and
when they saw him coming toward them on a timber trail, they shot him.
Allman initially said Bassler, 35, raised his gun at the deputies as
they approached, but later said he raised his rifle as he was falling
from the gunfire.
"I wish that this incident could have ended without another shot
being fired," Allman said. But, he added, "I fully support the manner in
which this ended. There will be no more lives which will be endangered
by Aaron Bassler."
Bassler had been sought since Councilman Jere Melo and a second man
separately confronted him while investigating reports of an illegal
marijuana farm outside of town.
Police said Bassler was cultivating some 400 poppy plants and was
holed up in a makeshift bunker when he fired on the 69-year-old Melo and
a co-worker who escaped and called for help.
Bassler was also wanted in the fatal shooting of Matthew Coleman of
the Mendocino County Land Trust. The former Fish and Game Department
employee was found dead next to his car on Aug. 11 up the coast from
Law enforcement personnel look over maps Friday at the Northspur
train station as they search for murder suspect Aaron Bassler, killed by
Dozens of local and federal authorities scoured the forests near Fort
Bragg in one of the area's largest manhunts in decades, but Bassler
eluded them for more than a month. A surveillance photo showed that he
was armed with a high-powered rifle, and he was believed to have broken
into several cabins to steal food and at least two other weapons.
The 7,000 residents of Fort Bragg had been on edge while
the manhunt enveloped the coastal community about three hours north of
San Francisco. Both Melo and Coleman had been well regarded locally for
their love of the land and volunteer community work.
"Relief," said Elizabeth McNeill, a sales clerk at the Sears
appliance store in downtown Fort Bragg. "It's a sad situation, but now
people can relax. I just hope Jere's wife can get some closure."
Morgan Peterson, a baristo at the Headlands Coffeehouse, said he had
hoped for a peaceful resolution. "It makes me kind of sad" that the
standoff ended in Bassler's death, he said. "But it wasn't unexpected,
and I'm glad it's over."
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Posters seeking his capture hung in the windows of most shops in this
fishing and lumber town, where authorities told residents to stay out
of their vacation cabins until Bassler was arrested.
Chriss Zaida, who owns a clothing store across from the coffeehouse,
heard whooping in the streets when news of Bassler's death spread
through town. "But I'm not high-fiving people," she said. "I have the
utmost sympathy for his victims, but also for the law enforcement agents
who had to do what they had to do. And I can't imagine what his family
is going through."
Bassler's father, James, was out of town on Saturday. His stepmother,
Helen, said she was devastated but did not want to comment further.
James Bassler had been vocal about his son's undiagnosed mental
illness after his past arrests for DUI and for throwing red military
stars and notes over the fence of the Chinese consulate in San
Francisco. He told The Associated Press in a recent interview that he
had called on Mendocino County officials to help his son, and hoped the
Board of Supervisors will pass a law that would allow for court-ordered
assisted outpatient treatment for those who refuse treatment.
Officials had been confounded by Bassler's skills and ability to
elude them in the 400-square-mile search perimeter. Authorities believe
that during his time at large, he broke into a half-dozen cabins in the
woods to restock his food supplies.
The forest is also frequented by tourists, particularly those who
take the fabled Skunk Train that traverses the redwood route from Fort
Bragg to Willits. The railroad, which runs near Melo's murder scene, had
been partially commandeered to transport agents and supplies into the
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