It has been 12 years since the tragic murders of Jere Melo and Matthew Coleman in Fort Bragg by Aaron Bassler a man with a very long history of unraveling Serious Mental Illness, Schizophrenia. Aaron was killed by the police, what a terrifying & horrific ordeal for Aarons family to witness, the mission to hunt down their son and make him pay for his crimes.
I read Stephen Sparks and Tom Allman's book “Out There in the Woods” the daily account of the 36-day manhunt for Aaron Bassler. Not exactly riveting or interesting, for me I read it out of necessity to write this article. What the book had to offer was insight into the minds of law enforcement and how in these past 12 years there has been no change in the response or care for people suffering from deterioration and psychosis due to Serious Mental Illness. My own experience with law enforcement and mental illness is that it is like playing roulette, 50, 50 chance of being taken to jail or hospital, dial the number and pray you get the help you need.
Did Aaron Bassler's family try to help him? Did they ask for intervention? Multiple times yes, they did, no one listened or cared that Aaron needed help. He required intervention and treatment to stabilize his deteriorating brain, but there was none to be had, no one to step up and 5150 him even though he was increasingly becoming unhinged it was extremely concerning to his family. Aaron never had a chance because not one protocol, service or system in place could help him. Nothing. He was an adult and expected to know, understand and request help, but he was to freaking sick to do so. When his family pleaded for the courts, the system, someone to help there was no response. Families are judged and rejected for their concerns and calls for help when someone they love is decompensating. As a mother I find it quite disturbing that my requests were viewed as a worried upset mom, when in fact families have the inside track to these situations and should be taken seriously.
Can you see in the last 12 years that there has been an increase in these serious mental illnesses and still no cohesive action too address them? I can absolutely testify to the fact that we have not provided the necessary solutions to alleviate the suffering that these disorders bring to individuals, their families and the community. Most of the damage caused to us is not the illness or addiction that can come along with it, it is the response, the non-response, the total disregard and blame of the individual and their family. At the same time that we allow a person's freedom of choice could we be condemning them to death? And what about Aaron Bassler's case was it his freedom of choice? Was it his illness? Was it drugs that caused him to murder 2 people in cold blood? It was actually the systemic failure to medicate and treat him against his will and get him stabilized, his brain to calm down and function harmoniously in society. Mental illness is horrible, Schizophrenia a nightmare that can be treated with proper meds and the right therapy. Yet we would much rather put our head in the sand and pretend we have no responsibility in the individual's freedom of choice! Sometimes people are too sick to comprehend their actions and choices, but we still allow them too, at the detriment of us all.
My experiences with “The System” have caused so much heartache and trauma that I never want anyone to feel alone when they are trying to help a loved one in these situations. All the years since this incident what solutions have, we come up with to help people? Assisted Outpatient Treatment and a Mobile Crisis Unit along with a bunch of boards and committees. AOT has strict criteria, Mobile Crisis is filtered through Law Enforcement and not ran 24 hours a day. I would never say these things are not helpful, they are to a certain percentage of people.
Could these programs have helped Aaron? That is the question, would anything in place now have given Aaron Bassler's brain the meds and treatment necessary to become well? I would say definitely not! What he needed was stabilization and medication for a prolonged period of time. But how on earth can we get to that point if there is not any intervention being offered?
We have quite a few Aarons on the loose in Ukiah, the only difference is we are not close to the woods and hopefully none of them have access to firearms. What they do have is the pleasure of being free on the streets to fend for themselves and continue into mental decline of psychosis and petty crime. Where do we draw the line? Is there a line? Do I just imagine there is? Someone needs a big red crayon and some guts to say enough is enough.