Aaron Bassler—A Mental Health Tragedy?

Kym Kemp / Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2011 @ 6:22 a.m. / Humboldt , Mendocino ,  Politics

Aaron Bassler in a Fort Bragg High School photo

The following is a guest post by Skippy Massey:

35-YEAR-OLD murder suspect Aaron Bassler’s death brings to an end 16 years of what his family has described as “a slow motion train wreck.”

AARON BASSLER was a shy but seemingly normal boy until his late teens, when he began a dark descent into mental illness, according to his family. He played baseball and had a job delivering newspapers, according to his family. “He was fine. He was happy,” his father, James Bassler, said. But that changed when Aaron reached the age of 18 or 19, according to family members, who believe he suffered from schizophrenia.

BASSLER had at least nine brushes with the law since he turned 19 in 1995, when he was given two years probation for driving under the influence. He’s since been arrested and charged with crimes that include prowling, vandalism, carrying a concealed Glock pistol and resisting arrest, according to court records. Bassler liked and collected guns.

INITIALLY, James Bassler blamed drugs and alcohol use for the change in his son’s behavior. But as the behavior became increasingly strange, he became convinced his son suffered from mental illness. Over time, Aaron’s behavior became more bizarre. Aaron Bassler was unable to hold a steady job for any length of time, his father said. He built a wall around the home in which he was last living, carved into its walls and drew strange, child-like pictures, including of aliens. He grew star thistle in pots. Aliens were a recurring theme. In early 2009, Aaron was arrested for throwing packages containing drawings of aliens, along with fake bombs, over the fence of the Chinese consulate in San Francisco.

HE was placed on federal probation for about a year, during which time he seemed to improve mentally, his father said. During that time, Bassler was required to attend regular counseling. Privacy laws kept James Bassler from learning whether his son had been diagnosed or treated for mental illness. The probationary period left Aaron Bassler’s family with hope that, with treatment, he could improve. Once the probation ended, Aaron Bassler regressed, his father said. Their hopes were dashed by Aaron’s unwillingness to get treatment and their inability to get forced help for him through the courts. By this time he had become increasingly paranoid, delusional, and prone to angry outbursts, relatives said.

WHEN Aaron was arrested in February, James Bassler and his daughter wrote letters warning the court, jail, sheriff’s and county mental health officials that “his family fears for his safety, their own safety and that of the community if this psychiatric disorder is not addressed.” They pleaded with officials to evaluate Aaron and get him into treatment. They never heard back, according to James Bassler.

REPORTEDLY having a history of schizophrenia, prior arrests and hospitalizations, Bassler was left untreated by the California mental health system. Had he been court ordered to stay in treatment, some wonder if perhaps this tragedy would not have happened.

LIKE 25 other California counties, Mendocino County has no psychiatric beds. It has failed to implement Laura’s Law, the California statute authorizing court-ordered treatment in the community. Laura’s Law is California’s version of Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT). These laws allow judges to order—after full hearings and considering all the evidence—certain potentially violent seriously mentally ill individuals to stay in treatment as a condition for living in the community. The vast majority of individuals with mental illness will never become dangerous. Laura’s Law is for the others— the ones such as Aaron Bassler.

STUDIES and statistics show both Assisted Outpatient Treatment and Laura’s Law have been effective— significantly reducing violence towards others, suicide, homelessness, arrests, incarcerations, and hospitalizations. Until there’s another murder, the law will most likely continue to be ignored. Mental health services and budgets are being gutted – mental health staff cut, psychiatric first-responders eliminated, hospital admissions reduced, and visits to mentally ill inmates by psychiatrists slashed. State and Counties’ fiscal budgets are going broke just trying to keep their patchwork systems afloat.

TWO weeks ago, Mendocino County supervisors asked their staff to prepare a presentation on the mental health program known as ‘Assisted Outpatient Treatment’. This is a step in the right direction. To note, Humboldt County does not have an AOT program.

THE unintended consequences? Matthew Coleman, Jere Melo, and Aaron Bassler are dead.—Their survivors are left with the tragic consequences of picking up the pieces of Aaron Bassler’s violence and untreated mental illness.

I am hoping there’s some kind of change made,” said James Bassler, who has been agonizing over the killings and believes such a program could help other families. “He really wanted to hide his delusions from people. But being around him, close enough to him, it was a constant thing.

JAMES Bassler said that what he considers the county’s failure to take seriously his warnings and his son’s mental illness are at least partly to blame for the deaths. “If he had a little more attention and guidance and control, this would have never happened.

(The Treatment Advocacy Center, Press-Democrat, Los Angeles Times, and DJ Jaffe of the Mental Illness Policy Organization contributed to this report)

The Press Democrat



LA Times:


DJ Jaffe:



Treatment Advocacy Center:




Top photo copied from the Press Democrat article here.

Bottom photo from the KMUD site.


  • Two things bother me about this whole thing. One is the fact that Aaron’s family begged for help and there was none. The other is that the cops that killed Aaron did not identify themselves and give this a chance at being resolved peacefully. It sounds like Bonnie and Clyde’s killing. Just kill em and be done with it. Laura’s Law wont be implemented in Mendo or HumCo unless someone sues first.
  • Welcom to the future where suicide by cop is how mental health problems are “treated”…sad.
  • Once again, Thank’s for this story. As a parent I feel for the Bassler family and the long years of helplessness they have have felt. I know it’s hard to be sympathetic towards Aaron Bassler as it seems too hard to do that when it would appear that he may have very well known what he was doing and now two very loved men are gone with the loved ones forever missing them. I can only imagine their loss.
    Unless you deal with something (like mental illness in this case) it is so hard to even want to think about how things could have gone differently for Aaron Bassler or others like him. It is not until we ourselves come close to a situation like this in out own lives that we even want or need to give it much thought. Now, Aaron Bassler is “gone”, but the issue of mental health is not. I know this will be a simplistic response, but if any of the proposed mental health programs can be put in place, it will benefit all of us as a community.
    Just last night, a homeless type younger man had been “checked on” after having been standing in the rain for at least one whole day and night. He was delusional and paranoid. I don’t know the outcome. I had seen him the day before also. Will he get the help he needs. Can Sempervirens Inpatient offer him help if he needs it?
    Once again, my condolences.
  • It always seems to take a tragedy like this to get our attention and to try and do something to prevent another. But if it is true that the courts never responded to the Bassler family’s letters asking for intervention then that is a crime on the head of the judge responsible for his case–shame on them. Such a shame on our society that two innocent men and an ill young man have died.

    It’s useless to second guess the officers who had the final confrontation with Aaron. Their lives were at stake and the risks were high that Aaron could escape and hurt someone else. As much as I had hoped for a peaceful end to Aaron’s run, I have seen nothing that indicates that this was ever going to happen.
  • I followed this story from the beggining.I grew up, in FB and lived in Humboldt I was in a relationship with some one who suffered with a mental illness just like aaron. my ex was arrested many times I exspressed my concercns to attrnys,courts,probation. Nothing came of it. I even took him to SV in humboldt to have him put on meds first they said he was fine until I started bringing up stuff he talks about and then he responded,thats when they admitted him,he was released the next day on meds but when meds ran out he reffussed to go back. Then another trip back to jail and they still didnt listen. I left that relationship for my safety. I am 100% for Lauras law.
  • Wow. This guy ended up like what an ex-brother in-law of mine might: dead as a consequence of mental illness. “Scooter” has an issue with all of this. So do I. Case in point, my ex-brother in law, whom I have known since high school and slowly regressed into schizophrenia, among other issues. He married my sister and over the course of time, tried to slowly change and hide my older sister (who has developmental disabilities) from a well-connected and attentive family. We aren’t ones to pry into personal lives of people but when your sister calls in the middle of the night from some place in Montana, when she was expected to be in Seattle, we go hunting. That ex got a beat down. He’s lucky I didn’t kill him myself.

    My issue is that, in my biased opinion, the family relied on whatever “authorities” were available and not give Aaron the whoopass he so desperately needed themselves. One that only family can give.

    This brings up another issue: why our tax dollars go to keep people off the streets with various social programs, and not target the obvious mental health issues that put some of them there. People need to stop pandering to ticking time bombs and expect the police to do it for them.
  • Great piece, Skippy, and thanks to Kym for posting it.

    How sad that we “can’t find the money” to treat the mentally ill, yet it seems like if even a fraction of the money that had to be spent on this manhunt had been available to support better mental health care in the area, that manhunt might never have been needed. It’s as if we’ve forgotten the old wisdom that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

    Two innocent victims are dead, the killer, who may not have been able to help himself, is dead, too, countless lives are shattered, friends and family are in mourning, the lives of local law enforcement officers, and the public at large, were put at risk, and a whole community has been traumatized.

    I just hope the community as a whole can at least take a constructive lesson from this horrible situation, and focus on what can be done to prevent similar incidents in the future. It seems to me that taking action to improve mental health services in the community would be a good way for people to feel that they can have some kind of influence over the course of events, rather than just hunkering down and waiting for the next ticking time bomb to go off.

    No one can be sure whether better mental health intervention for Bassler could have prevented this tragedy. But we do know the outcome of not having that intervention — death, fear, heartbreak, etc. If there is even a small chance of averting all that, then devoting the resources needed to provide some mental health services ahead of time seems like a very small price to pay.
  • There are a lot of failures of the system in this sad case. The intervention of the people in authority to incarcerate AB where he needed to be was for some reason not accomplished when he was arrested years ago for the attacks on the Chinese Consulate. Why was he released after two attacks? Why wasn’t he sentenced as a domestic terrorist? Why was he able to procure firearms, and abuse drugs and alcohol and nearly kill a lot of school children when he crashed into a school at 80 .m.p.h. Why was he constantly being arrested and released, using drugs, getting guns, and being enabled to continue to. There are only so many chnaces to stop the trian wreck before it happens. The normal mental health hold is only for a couple of days for people who are a danger to self or others. This is what needs to change along with the judicial system of revolving doors and no accountability of actions. How many more AB’s are out there and will be soon if something doesn’t change dramatically.
  • Every tragedy is capable of sparking outrage, followed by a personalized law — Amber Alerts, Laura’s Law — that is somehow supposed to prevent such tragedies from ever happening again. No doubt we’ll someday see Jaycee’s Law to require tighter supervision of paroled sex offenders.

    Yet there’s danger in taking such an approach. It assumes that the law, any law, is capable of being applied evenly and justly in all cases where it’s supposed to be applied. That’s unrealistic, to put it mildly, and that goes double for laws that apply to a mental health system that is chronically underfunded.

    One also has to remember that our nation offers constitutional guarantees of personal liberty, making a 72-hour psych hold about the best you can do for the legions of 5150s wandering our streets in poverty and mental disarray. You can wish a better life for them, but you cannot legally force them to choose it without following due process. When that same process then comes up short on money and treatment options, the law is exposed as the toothless animal that it is, designed to give more comfort to us than to the walking wounded it’s designed to protect.
  • Thank you for giving us a bit of perspective on this tragic case. Also, since Aaron was killed, I have been thinking about him, and now especially knowing of his mental health illnesses, and the lack of available treatment, I believe that for someone like him, dying in the woods, however horrific that must have been, was possibly a better end than living in a cage/jail for an extended portion of his life.
  • Good Job Kym at bringing some humanity to this incredibly sad series of events. Always good to remember Aaron was someones, son, grandson, student, Mendocino County could have intervened if they cared about more than the bottom $$ line…..
    The TRUE REASON, Mendocino County has so many Mentally Ill People:
    The State of California sent thousands of patients diagnosed with Mental Health Issues to Mendocino County from the late 1800’s until the 1970’s……….. The patients were exposed to everything from “Shock Therapy and Frontal Lobotomies to LSD Experiments and “Ice Water Hydrotherapy” …… To really examine the Mental Health of the County it helps to realize the part the State of California played ion shipping the Mentally Ill to Mendocino County from around the State, and how in the 1970’s Reagan simply opened the doors and put these folks on the streets…… http://mendonews.wordpress.com/2010/01/10/922/
  • While treatment would have been preferable is outpatient treatment sound fiscally? The MHA has campaigned for many decades to de institutionalize mental patients. That is why most state no longer have effective mental health systems anymore. I understand the goal, but it has proven a tragic failure.

    Under the system of laws now in effect courts etc have very little power to do anything to intervene

    Mr Bassler’s father may have been correct in his initial diagnosis. Drug use and mental illness are often found in the same patient, and they increase the effects.
  • Kym’s rarely seen picture of Aaron is a stunning portrait of contrasts: a young man in his happier and healthier days, full of hope and dreams, dressed in a tux and smiling. Someone’s loved son and taken care of, alert and aware nearing graduation.

    17 years later we have an entirely different picture altogether: pale and shallow, sunken and defiant, psychotic, delusional, and antisocial, living on the fringes of society— and wanted for murder.

    How does one go from the picture above to the one below? From one extreme to the other? Could anything have avoided the tragic consequences, mistakes— and the brutal violence— that Aaron chose for himself?
  • Thank you Skippy, and thank you Kym. Such a sad story. We don’t deal well with mental illness in this society, but we’re happy to pay for prisons. Truly crazy.
  • I have to thank you for this story, the untold story, until now. If there was some way he could have been brought in, it should have been done. But even before he got to this point there should have been some compassion from some quarter of his community to find help for him and his family. And I want to dis the horrible fist pumping I’ve seen over his killing. I can see from the picture above this man could have been anyone’s son. The whole mess is just sad.
  • very interesting to see the other side of this story how sad for his family and all the families.
  • Only now are the Mendo County Supervisors looking into ” Laura’s Law” a program of mandatory mental health treatment that was started in Nevada County after a mentally deranged gunman walked into a restaurant and killed several people. Shockingly, only Nevada County has this program in place and it has worked in a limited way. It is an out patient program so it may need revision to in patient and mandatory holds and this is a possible way to derail the next AB. But, sadly on the news today is a gunman loose in Cupertino after another killing spree, and again SWAT and police have to find and deal with a madman.
  • […] story of Aaron Bassler,the sweet faced young man who ended up murdering two beloved Mendocino men, has a new chapter as information continues to […]
  • Just fucking glad the bastard is dead.
  • I was glued to Aarons story, while it was happening i am 22 just about all the people in fort bragg know me I used to run into Aaron B. he didn’t seem like a killer i have a grandmother who is schizophrenic its very sad  I simpathize for The Bassler Familly and Jerry’s familly my mother knew him well and she also knew matt Colemen who i also sympathize for Mental Helth and Drug Addiction problems are not to be solved by the Correctional system. They are things are country needs to deal with in a better and some cases differently …. Joe K..AKA. Mac Joe

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