FORT BRAGG — The Mendocino County Sheriff's Office released a new photo Monday of murder suspect Aaron Bassler, where the fugitive appears to be carrying a high-caliber assault rifle and vandalizing a vacation cabin.
The photo was taken within the last two weeks by one of 40 surveillance cameras placed by law enforcement to aid their search, said Mendocino County Sheriff-Coroner Tom Allman.
Allman did not give the exact location where the photo was taken. Deputies are searching a 400-square-mile area, and have not left any of the original areas of their search, he said. Bassler is believed to be hiding in the dense, craggy forest between Fort Bragg and Willits, somewhere north of Highway 20.
“We have every reason to believe he is still in the original area,” Allman said. “Many people wonder if we are getting closer to a resolution on this, and I assure you that we are.”
Deputies are investigating burglaries at three to six other cabins in the area, during which a shotgun and a rifle have been stolen, Allman said.
“There are many vacation cabins in that area that have been broken into,” Allman said. “We're obviously very concerned about that.”
Bassler is suspected of shooting Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo, 69, and Mendocino Land Trust land manager Matthew Coleman, 45, of Albion. Authorities now have DNA evidence that places Bassler at the scene of Coleman's death, Allman said.
Bassler has not opened fire on any law enforcement officials, Allman said. He was seen about three weeks ago outside his mother's home, but slipped away from authorities. They sent a dog after him, which made contact. From the photo, it appears that Bassler was unharmed and is healthy, Allman said.
Since then, sightings by citizens have been reported to police, but they have not been verified by law enforcement.