Aaron Bassler was shot and killed by law enforcement agents just after noon Saturday, ending a grueling 36-day hunt for the Fort Bragg man charged with ambushing and killing two men in coastal Mendocino County, authorities said.
Bassler, 35, had an assault rifle in hand, his finger near the trigger, when three members of a SWAT unit posted in the dense forest spotted him walking about 40 yards away along a timber road, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.
The team fired. Bassler raised his weapon and they fired again, Allman said. Seven shots later, Bassler was dead, Allman said.
"I've stated many times that I wish this incident could have ended without another shot fired," Allman said. "But I fully support the manner in which this ended. No more lives are endangered by Aaron Bassler."
Bassler had been charged with the Aug. 11 shooting death of Matt-hew Coleman, 45, of Albion and the Aug. 27 slaying of Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo, 69.
Greg Melo, the son of the slain former Fort Bragg mayor and timber manager, said Saturday afternoon that he had been informed of the suspect's death by a relative in Fort Bragg.
"I heard what I needed to hear. None of our people got hurt, and the threat's neutralized," said Melo, 41, who lives in Coos Bay, Ore.
"I've got so many friends in Fort Bragg who are breathing easier. Today's a good day."
Melo said that his father had been patrolling private forest lands with another man, who has not been identified, looking for an illegal marijuana plot, when Bassler charged through the brush, shooting Melo in the chest six times.
Melo's companion fired back, then fled toward the Skunk Train, where he flagged down a maintenance rail car that took him to safety. He identified Bassler as the assailant.
Bassler later was linked by DNA evidence to the shooting death of Coleman, a Mendocino Land Trust manager whose body was found near his car on an ocean-front ranch owned by the Save the Redwoods League.
Bassler's family said the Fort Bragg native suffered from undiagnosed mental illness and his behavior had become increasingly threatening in recent years. He had been living in the forest abutting his hometown for months.
An extensive manhunt was launched in the timberland east of town immediately after Melo's death. Mendocino County sheriff's search teams were augmented by dozens of agents who arrived from agencies across California, including the U.S. Marshals Service.
Authorities had left numerous messages in the woods for Bassler with instructions about how to surrender.
But on Thursday, he opened fire on three Alameda County deputies aiding in the search. They fired back about 10times before he disappeared, deputies said.
Until then, Bassler had been spotted only one other time, on Sept. 4, when deputies saw him near his mother's house just east of Fort Bragg.
They called to him, but he slipped into the woods, pursued by a police dog that returned with what has been described variously as an article of clothing or a backpack.
A key break in the search came at about 4:30 p.m. Friday, when the owner of an auto repair shop outside Fort Bragg reported that his building had been burglarized, Allman said. The shop is about four miles east of Fort Bragg, nearly 13miles closer than the primary search area, he said.