FORT BRAGG, Calif. – A well-respected California community leader who was gunned down after finding a remote illegal marijuana operation was a two-term mayor whose fundraising and goodwill helped build firehouses and a first-class high school football stadium.
The city of Fort Bragg was reeling Monday after the death of longtime Councilman Jere Melo, a forest land manager who was fatally shot Saturday while he and a co-worker were walking through a rugged area of timber land just outside town.
A manhunt continued for the suspected gunman.
Melo was in his 15th year on the City Council and had dedicated most of his life improving Fort Bragg.
"He was always the first one there, and the last one to go," current Mayor Dave Turner told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. "No one put in as much as Jere did, and I don't think they ever will."
City Manager Linda Ruffing told the newspaper, "Jere was just loved and respected by so many people."
Fort Bragg officials met on Sunday to discuss how to handle the grief among city staff.
Melo, who spent five decades in the timber business, was most recently working for Campbell Timber Management in Fort Bragg.
On Saturday, he and a co-worker were patrolling forestland for a suspected marijuana grow along the Noyo River when he was shot and killed, authorities said.
Melo's co-worker managed to escape and called for help on his cell phone.
Deputies suspect the gunman was Aaron Bassler, a transient in his mid-30s with a history of run-ins with the law, Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said.
Bassler was last seen with a firearm and should be considered armed and dangerous, authorities said.