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Murder suspect gunned down in California woods

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 1:32 AM EDT, Sun October 2, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Aaron Bassler was wanted in two murders in August in Mendocino County
  • More than 40 law enforcement agents have been involved in the hunt for him
  • He is shot dead by a team of sheriff officers patrolling remote forest area
  • The suspect was not warned and didn't fire, but was considered "dangerous"

(CNN) -- Three law enforcement officers patrolling a remote stretch of northern California woods shot dead a double-murder suspect whom authorities had been hunting for 36 days, a sheriff said.

Aaron Bassler was wearing black clothing and carrying a large backpack, a fanny-pack and assault rifle when three Sacramento sheriffs spotted him early Saturday, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.

From about 40 yards away and at an elevation 25 feet higher, they fired about seven rounds into his upper torso.

Allman said Bassler didn't fire a shot, and there was no verbal exchange between the parties. The suspect raised his weapon -- which was loaded and not on safety -- from the ground toward law enforcement officers.

It is believed to be the same weapon used to kill one of his victims, officials said.

The suspect was considered "armed and dangerous," and was believed to have engaged in a gunfight with three other law enforcement officers from Alameda County two days earlier.

There was no "shoot-to-kill" order in effect, Allman said.

"I fully support the manner in which this happened," the sheriff said, responding to inquiries that the suspect was killed without any warning or having fired a shot. "There will be no more lives endangered by Aaron Bassler."

Authorities wanted Bassler for the killing of Jere Melo on August 27 just east of Fort Bragg on the northern California coast 10 miles north of Mendocino.

Melo, 69, was an Army veteran as well as a former mayor and then-councilman in Fort Bragg at the time of his death.

A witness saw a gunman open fire and later identified the suspect, according to Allman.

He has also been identified as the suspect in the August 11 slaying of Matthew Coleman in Westport, just north of Fort Bragg. Allman said Saturday that DNA evidence linked him to Coleman's death.

For over a month, more than 40 local, state and federal law enforcement agencies have teamed up to look for him.

In the process, he has been a suspect in several burglaries in which he kicked in locked doors and made off with food and guns, said Allman.

One such incident occurred between Thursday and Friday in a garage-shop about two miles from where Bassler was eventually found. A police bloodhound tracked his scent, helping steer authorities in the direction that they believed the suspect might be -- and leading to the operation Saturday.

The officers who gunned down Bassler were among about 15 three-person teams brought in from around the state for the search.

Bassler's family was "not happy" when a law enforcement official contacted them Saturday about the death because the press had already put out the news, according to the sheriff.

"I do have some feelings for the Bassler family, they suffered a loss today," Allman said. "(But) I assure you, that the other two losses that we felt in this county were something that law enforcement remembered every day."

A $30,000 reward for information leading to Bassler had been offered. There was no indication Saturday that anyone will receive it.

CNN's Greg Botelho contributed to this report.

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