Jere Melo Fort Bragg Murder: Father Says Son May Have Killed Before

PHOTO: Aaron Bassler mugshotMendocino County Sheriffs Office
Aaron Bassler, shown in this Feb. 2011 police booking photo, is wanted for the Aug. 27, 2011 murder of former Fort Bragg, Calif. mayor Jere Melo.

The father of a man suspected of killing a popular city councilman in Fort Bragg, Calif., told his son may have murdered someone else in August, just months after he said the legal system ignored concerns about his son's behavior.

Aaron Bassler, 35, is currently suspected of killing city councilman and former Fort Bragg mayor Jere Melo while Melo patrolled forestland on a private timber company adjacent to California's Noyo River. Aaron Bassler, who is believed to be schizophrenic, was tending two small opium poppy fields when he allegedly shot Melo with a rifle, according to police.

In the past, "he never really did anything violent but you could feel the potential there," said his 59-year-old father, James Bassler. "We were all pretty scared of him, that he might go over the edge."

When Bassler heard property manager Matthew Coleman had died of a gunshot wound about 15 miles away near Westport, Calif., where his ex-wife had recently dropped off their son, he connected the dots.

His ex-wife, Bassler said, had tried to help their son in the only way she knew how, especially after Aaron Bassler crashed his car into a school tennis court during a drunk driving accident six months ago that resulted in his car and license being taken away.

"She was very accommodating," he said, adding that she hasn't had any contact with him since the first shooting that occurred nearly three weeks ago.

"A few months back she was able to acquire food stamps for him," Bassler said, explaining his son had given up growing marijuana several years ago and didn't appear to have any other source of income.

"If he called her up -- she gave him rides. I believe she dropped him off up in Westport area [prior to the Aug. 11 shooting]," Bassler said.

As of right now, police haven't yet determined if Aaron Bassler shot Coleman, too.

"We're waiting for our evidence to tell us if that's related," Mendocino County Sheriff spokesman Kurt Smallcomb told today.

Searching for Aaron Bassler

In the meantime, officers assisted by several groups including the National Guard and FBI continue to conduct ground and aerial searches, but Aaron Bassler has so far managed to elude investigators.

James Bassler says his son knows the woods very well. He said his son had been living in the forest for four months after getting evicted from a Fort Bragg cabin owned by his grandmother, who died recently and left the property to somebody else.

Jere Melo's death shook the small coastal town of Fort Bragg, with a population of 7,000.

"We're in shock. It's unbelievable," Mayor Dave Turner told the Associated Press earlier this week. "No one has put in as much work here as Jere has. And I don't think anyone ever will."

Melo, who had been investigating reports of a marijuana farm on the day he was shot, was accompanied by a co-worker who managed to escape and call police on his cell phone.

Police sent a SWAT team to the rural, rugged area but did not find Bassler, who was last seen with a high-caliber rifle and is considered armed and dangerous.

"He's likely out there thinking he's Rambo, shooting the bad guys," Bassler said. "He's just totally lost."

Melo's memorial service is planned for Sept. 10 at the high school Timberwolf Stadium he helped build. It's considered by many to be one of his greatest accomplishments while in public office. He is survived by his wife and two adult children.

A Family's Fear

"I learned what schizophrenia was … way, way too late," Bassler said. "I'm so frustrated with the system, I'm telling you this didn't have to happen."

Bassler told his daughter had written a letter to the court begging for her brother to get help earlier this year after Aaron Bassler had gotten arrested for drunk driving. And James Bassler had written a letter to the medical staff at the jail, distributing copies to his son's public defender and the Sheriff's office.

"We tried to alert the authorities – basically the way I said it, I still have a copy of the letter, 'We fear for his safety, the family's safety and community's safety,' if this mental illness isn't addressed," Bassler said.

He reportedly received no answer.

The Sheriff's office was not immediately available for comment.

It wasn't the first time he said his family had tried to get law enforcement officials to pay attention to Aaron Bassler's mental health.

"He has a long, long rap sheet," Bassler said.

About two and half years ago, Bassler said, his son caused a bomb scare at the Chinese Consulate in San Francisco after leaving packages "with strange drawings and writings," described by the San Francisco Chronicle as "drawings of red stars and writings that referred to the 'Martian military.'"

"They released him to his mother," Bassler said. "Whatever they determined, whatever analysis they did, they kept it to themselves. He was basically let back into the community."

At one point within the past year, after confronting his son about a cooking fire that could have spread to other people's homes, his son "just blew up and threatened to take my life, and he just snapped into a real angry, scary mood," Bassler said, explaining his son's erratic behavior had been so commonplace that all of the odd and frightening moments had blended together, making it difficult to pinpoint exactly when each episode happened.

"How can the mentally ill that don't think anything's wrong with them … how can they be helped if no one communicates?" he asked.

Now, Bassler says it's too late for his son -- who was a "normal child" until he started exhibiting erratic behavior at age 19 -- to get the help he needs.

"I really do believe it's too late for him. I worry as much or more about the prospect of losing another inocent life as I do about his sad future," Bassler said.