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Fort Bragg residents express relief

  • After a month of worry, consternation and fear, Fort Bragg residents from left, Charletta Evans with her great grandaughter Lilian May, nine mos., her son Wayne Evans and wife Kim, let down their hair during a pancake breakfast at the Fort Bragg Grangfe Hall, Sunday Oct. 2, 2011. A day after Aaron Bassler was killed by law enforcement, a sense of relief and a little sadness replaced a feeling of dread in the community. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

FORT BRAGG — Sunday dawned on this former mill town along Mendocino County's rugged coast with a palpable sense of peace for the first time since the search for a man suspected of killing two people began more than five weeks ago.

Aaron Bassler, 35, was shot dead in the dense woods about four miles east of town Saturday by a SWAT team from Sacramento County.

The fatal bullets brought to a close a search that had transformed the vast woodlands abutting town into the ominous staging ground of a reportedly homicidal man.

Fort Bragg Grange Breakfast

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"It was a long month," said Marty Johnson, 66, master of the Fort Bragg Grange.

Sunday morning, bowls of blackberry syrup made with fruit harvested from the nearby woods were passed among people seated in folding chairs around tables at the monthly Grange breakfast. More than 300 people, many whose families have called the Fort Bragg area home for generations, gathered north of town in the white building trimmed in green and surrounded by pines along scenic Highway 1.

Conversations turned to the unease that has for 36 days hung over the town of about 7,200 people, many in homes abutting the forest search area that sprawled east from the coast.

While saddened that the search for Bassler ended with another North Coast man dead, few at the Grange hall questioned the tactics used by the Sacramento County sheriff's SWAT team in Bassler's final moments.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman reached Sunday said the team had few options when Bassler was spotted walking down a timber road with the semiautomatic weapon he'd presumably used in both killings at the ready.

"Let's say he'd been walking down the road with the gun slung over his back or we had come upon him when he was sleeping, those are situations when we'd be able to announce who we were without him answering back with gunfire," Allman said.

"Honestly, I wasn't willing to risk the lives of these men," Allman said. "If he'd shown any signs of surrendering peacefully we could have used other tactics, but he didn't."


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