FT. BRAGG, Calif. (CN) – Former Mayor and City Councilman Jere Melo was gunned down investigating reports of a marijuana grow on private timber land, the Eureka Times-Standard reported. Melo’s co-worker at Hawthorne Timber Company told the Times-Standard that a man “opened fire on the pair with a high-powered rifle, hitting Melo multiple times.”
The co-worker returned fire, escaped and called authorities, reporting Aaron Bassler of Fort Bragg as the shooter, according to the paper.
Melo died of his wounds at the scene. Bassler is at large and is considered armed and dangerous. A previous arrest photo shows a man with starkly white skin, light eyes and shaved eyebrows and head.
Bassler is said to be a transient, previously arrested in Ft. Bragg for crashing a truck into a school’s tennis courts.
Bassler also allegedly had left packages at the Chinese consulate in San Francisco, causing a bomb scare, according to the San Francisco Chronicle; the packages contained ramblings about alien armies and Chinese weapons, along with red stars.
The two foresters had spotted water lines on the Hawthorne property, indicating something was being grown illegally, when shots rang down from above, the Times-Standard reported Wednesday.
Bassler had built crow’s nests in the trees so he could see people coming, and had dug bunkers around his crop so he could protect what turned out to be a hundred poppy plants, according to the Times-Standard.
If the poppies are opium poppies, a crop this size could fetch about $1,000, according to information from the Times-Standard.
Melo was beloved as a person and for his commitment to Ft. Bragg. He was in his 15th year on the city council, and had served four years as Mayor. He is credited with securing funds for major upgrades to the volunteer fire department, and a new high school football stadium. He also was honored in 2002 for decades of work in the timber business, by the Redwood Region Logging Conference, for his efforts to bring the industry, its regulators and the community closer together, the group’s president, Katherine Ziemer told the Times-Standard.
The local Press Democrat reports that Aaron Bassler’s father, James Bassler, has implicated Aaron in a similar shooting death of another land manager 17 days ago. He says his son is mentally ill.
Aaron’s mother had dropped Aaron off in the area Matthew Coleman of the Mendocino Land Trust was killed, James Bassler told the Press Democrat. James added that his son is antisocial and delusional, and prefers to be out in the wilderness.
There were no grows near the site of Coleman’s shooting, according to the paper.
“He may have had a special spot up there where he contacted aliens. … He does very, very bizarre and strange things. They’re not really tied to any rational thought,” James Bassler told the Press Democrat.
James Bassler said he had warned law enforcement, court and mental health officials earlier this year that his son might harm someone, according to the paper.