Monday, August 29, 2011

To the Murderer(s) of My Friend Matt Coleman

Dear Killer(s):

My name is Mat Thomas, and Matt Coleman was my good friend. A professional environmentalist and passionate protector of the natural world, Matt Coleman worked as a conservation steward, volunteer coordinator and wildlife population surveyor for the Mendocino Land Trust during the past six years. You probably only knew Matt Coleman as the tall, bulky stranger you shot to death in a barrage of bullets on Thursday, August 11th while he was doing restoration work at Cape Vizcaino, a remote 400-acre coastal forest reserve near Westport, California owned by the Save the Redwoods League. I, on the other hand, knew Matt Coleman personally as a close friend, confidant and housemate for several years, as well as a fellow literature lover, activist, outdoor enthusiast and creative collaborator on the Magnificent Glass Pelican radio program. We met when I was a freshman at the State University of New York, New Paltz, and remained friends for more than two decades. A fortunate few knew and loved him as son, brother or life partner; still others knew and respected him as colleague, community member, role model or mentor. All of us miss him terribly. 

Unlike you, we all know what kind of man Matt Coleman was: a strong, caring, compassionate, generous, funny, intelligent, energetic, noble one who’d found meaning and purpose in working to make Earth a better planetary home for people and wildlife alike. Inspired by his heroes Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Edward Abbey, and George Washington Hayduke, Matt Coleman followed their giant footsteps into the wilderness. He was only 45 years old, and probably had several good decades of life left in him. Yet you selfishly robbed Matt Coleman of his life and stole him away from us. What we want to know now is why.  

Seriously: you owe all those who knew and cared about Matt Coleman an explanation, because you had no right to kill him, and you inflicted severe emotional, existential and spiritual trauma on us when you did. We are stricken with shock, struggling to make some semblance of sense out of his apparently pointless murder. Yet we find this far more difficult to do than we would if we knew why someone decided to brutally eradicate this unique, irreplaceable individual from existence. In the depths of our psyches, we wonder: what possible scenario could there be to morally justify murdering Matt Coleman? What non-self-serving motive could you conceivably offer in your own defense? 

And Just Who the Hell Are You?*

Are you part of an armed mercenary militia force employed by a marijuana cartel, and did Matt Coleman discover your illegally-grown pot plantation (as the most plausible hypothesis maintains)? If so, how does it feel knowing that you permanently obliterated a singular human being’s consciousness for something so crass as money, and to protect yourself/selves and your fellow felons from detection? 

Or are you some unknown enemy who nursed a grudge against Matt Coleman and decided to take your petty revenge for some perceived slight? If so, how do you feel now that the deed is done? Does your vengeance taste as sticky-sweet as you’d imagined, or has it already turned to bitter ashes in your mouth? 

Or are you just some random crazyperson who stalked a lone defenseless caretaker into the woods as an easy victim? If so, I pity your chemically-distorted dementia 
(which is no doubt mentally agonizing). Yet, despite your disability, I cannot forgive your mortal trespass. 

Whoever you are, did you get a thrill when you pulled the trigger? Did killing a man make you feel powerful, invincible, Godlike? Among the most troubling questions about Matt Coleman’s death for those of us who knew him is whether his last moments were filled with the terror of knowing that his life was about to end. The police have not publicly released such details as how many bullets you blasted into his torso, whether you shot him from the front or back, or any incriminating evidence they may have discovered at the crime scene or on your victim’s corpse. I assume the cops have kept this information classified to maintain the upper hand against you in their investigation. In this unfortunate situation, the best we can hope for is that our dearly departed companion died quickly, and that you, his killer(s), at least had the basic human decency not to taunt your prey or ridicule his sudden infirmity and helplessness as his precious lifeforce drained away in a pool of warm blood on the ground. 

Regardless of the exact circumstances of Matt Coleman’s murder, and whatever your reasons or reactions might have been, I cannot forgive you for killing him: not yet, anyway. Because, to even begin healing the wounds afflicting our grieving souls, you owe us—Matt Coleman’s surviving kith and kin—more than a mere explanation: you owe us justice. For our sake, as well as the sake of your own deliverance from evil, I urge you to turn yourself/selves over to the authorities now so that you can be held accountable for your abominable actions and spare yourself/selves the Hell of your own personal torment.

Exorcise Your Demons

I figure there is a good chance that you, Matt Coleman’s killer(s), may read this open letter at some point. I say this because you are probably doing what most felons do: scouring the Internet for information about your crime—whether it’s to determine if the police have uncovered any damning forensic evidence, or to satiate a narcissistic hunger for media attention (anonymous as it is). Furthermore, based on what I recently learned about search engine optimization, I’ve strategically used the term “Matt Coleman” 32 times betting that Google will prominently feature this letter near the top of its browser results. 

You probably don’t want to give yourself/selves up because you’re afraid of going to prison. But you know what? You’re already in prison, whether you realize it or not. You took a human life, and somewhere deep down you know that this was wrong—religiously speaking, a mortal sin even. No matter how tough you think you are or how hardened your black heart(s) may be, guilt and shame are festering inside your guts, eating away at the calluses that have calcified around your conscience(s). You may presently be too emotionally crippled and desensitized to be fully conscious of the disgraceful state of your soul(s), but understand that you will remain trapped in cages of your own remorse until you acknowledge and pay the price for the grave damage you’ve done to others.

Has someone you loved ever died? Was that person murdered by another human being? If so, then perhaps you know the pain that we, Matt Coleman’s survivors, feel burning inside us. Maybe you’ve buried that anguish, that suffering, beneath layers of denial and self-deception, but at least some part of you knows it’s still there, controlling your life/lives, and ultimately can’t be avoided. And it’s going to drive you to kill again unless you deliberately disrupt your destructive pattern—especially if Matt Coleman was not your first murder victim. Nevertheless, whether he was or wasn’t, I’m fairly certain that he won’t be your last. 

You think you can quit killing anytime you want? I seriously doubt it. Don’t take my word for it: listen to someone who knows. In 1997, Matt Coleman turned me on to Ani DiFranco & Utah Phillips’ album The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere. On the track “Anarchy,” Phillips had this to say about violence (quoting the wisdom of Ammon Hennacy, Phillips’ halfway-house manager in the 1950s after he’d returned home from the Korean war):

“You know, alcoholism will kill somebody, until they finally get the courage to sit in a circle of people like that and put their hand up in the air and say, 'Hi, my name’s Utah, I’m an alcoholic.' And then you can begin to deal with the behavior, you see, and have the people define it for you whose lives you’ve destroyed.” (Hennacy) said, “It’s the same with violence. You know, an alcoholic, they can be dry for twenty years; they’re never gonna sit in that circle and put their hand up and say, 'Well, I’m not alcoholic anymore' – no: they’re still gonna put their hand up and say, 'Hi, my name’s Utah, I’m an alcoholic.' It’s the same with violence. You gotta be able to put your hand in the air and acknowledge your capacity for violence, and then deal with the behavior, and have the people whose lives you’ve messed with define that behavior for you, you see. And it’s not gonna go away: you’re gonna be dealing with it every moment in every situation for the rest of your life.

So you see, dear murderer(s), you’re addicted to violence, and you’re not gonna be able to stop killing on your own…especially if you continue down the cruel path that led you to murder Matt Coleman in the first place. Your humanity—the very core of one’s Self—has already been corrupted and corroded by murdering Matt Coleman and perhaps others. Do you really want to make it worse by committing even more murders?

Your only chance for salvation from your current malady, and an even more horrifying fate than you’re already burdened with, is to surrender yourself/selves to the police. Taking responsibility for your crime will definitely be difficult, but at least you will have finally broken out of your vicious cycle and begun to purify your poisoned soul(s). However, if you refuse to confront your demons by honestly answering for the murder of Matt Coleman, your inner torture will never cease, but rather magnify exponentially until it has completely consumed whatever shriveling remnants of your humanity still remain.  

Coleman Lives! 

By murdering Matt Coleman, you may have decimated his body, terminated his brain functions, ceased his sentience and extinguished his essence, but there is still one vital part of him that you could not kill: his spirit, which will live on forever inside the hearts of all those who knew him. Matts family, friends and colleagues will therefore always remember him as a martyr to the critical cause of protecting Earth from human greed and exploitation. Inspired by his courage and resolve, others will continue Mattenvironmental protection work where he left off with renewed effort, and carry the torch of progress for him now that he has departed this world.  

Matt Coleman not only lived and died doing what he loved—he lived and died for what he loved. That is, if you are in fact a member of Mendocino’s marijuana mafia, you most likely killed him because he tried to defend the forest’s fragile ecosystem against your illicit invasion. Do you even know (or care) how badly illegal pot grows damage the environment? The toxic fertilizers and pesticides used to grow pot plants pollute the ecosystem for miles around, and the tons of trash left behind (from hoses to empty propane canisters) blight otherwise pristine landscapes. Illegal marijuana farmers deprive wildlife of the natural habitat they need to survive by cutting down trees to build shelters, fencing off large swaths of land, and diverting water sources to grow cash crops. The booby traps they set with live explosives to deter nosy visitors often kill animals, and those who squat on public lands to grow or guard crops illegally poach animals for food. 

If you are an outlaw pot farm guard, then you know that your kind do not fit the mellow hippy stereotype most people associate with marijuana cultivation. The criminal cannabis underground is instead populated by vile, abhorrent thugs who ravage lands that rightfully belong to the American people and ruthlessly execute anyone who threatens their profits. To them, killing is just a cost of doing business. In fact, just today Fort Bragg City Councilman Jere Melo was shot and killed after finding an illegal pot operation on a parcel of land he was managing. 

Though it is of limited consolation to those of us who mourn Matt Coleman, at least we know that his final moments were spent in the place that he most loved: the wild, cradled under the canopy of ancient, native trees that he dedicated himself to safeguarding. Matt Coleman was a peaceful warrior, and it is significant and symbolic that when you spilled his blood, it poured into, blended with and nourished the living soil where he fell on the environmental battlefield. We who remain can take some small comfort that, even though you took Matt Coleman’s life, you could not crush his convictions. 

I will always fondly remember my friend Matt Coleman in my own personal way. I will hear his gruff Brooklyn-accented, California-surfer-dude-inflected voice whenever I listen to The Pogues, The Clash or Bob Marley. I will think of his voracious intellect and sharp sense of humor whenever I read Gary Snyder, Ursula K. LeGuin or Zippy the Pinhead. I will see Matt
s smiling face—punctuated by his untamed lion’s mane of gray-blonde hair, grizzled beard and silver-rimmed glasses—every time I watch the sun set in radiant golden-azure glory, or the incandescent cobalt waves roll and tumble over the Pacific shoreline, or the luminous sea of distant suns impossibly floating in the infinite night sky. 

Matt, you are one with the Earth, with Creation now. Tom Waits expressed it better and more simply in his song “Take It With Me” than I could ever hope to in mere written words: “It’s got to be more than flesh and bone / All that you’ve loved is all you own.” With this parting poetic sentiment, my friend, I bid you a gloomy goodbye and wish you blissful eternity in the Heaven of your choosing. Peace out, brother.

1) In the wake of Matt Coleman’s passing, family and friends have set up two funds that you can donate to:

- Memorial Fund: An endowment has been established in Matt Coleman's memory that reflects his lifelong passions and interests. Please send donations to: The Community Foundation of Mendocino County; Matthew Coleman Fund for Environmental Education & Conservation; 290 S. State Street; Ukiah, CA 95482.

- Reward Fund: The Mendocino Land Trust founded a reward fund (now over $30,000 as of 9/23/11) in hopes of encouraging those with information about Matt Coleman’s murder to come forward. Please make checks out to "Mendocino Land Trust" and send donations to: REWARD; c/o MLT; Box 1094; Mendocino, CA 95460. Contact Jez at 707-962-0470 or for more information. Receipts will be provided for all donations, and monies will be returned to donors if no reward is paid out.

2) If you have any information potentially pertaining to Matt Coleman’s murder, please call the Mendocino County Sheriff's Office at 707-467-9159 or 707-463-4086. Callers can choose to remain anonymous. 

3) Visit my Facebook page for updates on the police investigation.

* Police killed Aaron Bassler, suspect in the murders of both Matt Coleman and Councilman Melo, on Saturday, October 1st.

Related AnimalRightings:

- James McCaffry: 1954-2011

- Witness to Suicide at Powell and Market

- Leaked NRA Pamphlet Targets “Animal Rights Terrorists”


  1. Anonymous1:09 PM

    Nice. Thank you. Landed here because of a Google Alert I set up for more details, as they unfold, about the murder of an old, dear college friend of mine... I'm so sorry for his family's and close friends' loss.

  2. I'm glad you like the post. I met Matt at college too (SUNY New Paltz). Not sure whether that's where you met him, and if so if you & I knew each other. If you want to contact me personally, click "View My Complete Profile" (in the upper-right of this blog, just under my bio) for my email address.

  3. Mat, I'm so sorry about your friend. I hope the losers who did this are found quickly and that they get what they deserve.

  4. Thanks Mat for your post. Matthew was/is my brother in law as I am married to his step brother John. I'm sure you heard they have a warrant out for an arrest in his murder. I hope and pray that they catch him. Maybe then our family can begin to heal.

    Melissa Gifford

  5. Hi Melissa,

    I read an article today indicating that the police may be close to catching Aaron Bassler, the suspect in Matt's & Councilman Melo's murders. I have complex, inexplicable feelings about this in the sense that apprehending & punishing the killer won't bring Matt back, but at least it's something -- better than nothing, at least. Otherwise, I've just been feeling empty since I found out about Matt's death. You probably feel that emotional vacuum, too. What a world.

  6. Well, Aaron Bassler is no longer a threat. Very very sad still because no matter what, it's not going to bring Matt back to us.
    Melissa Gifford

  7. Very informative post for me as I am always looking for new content that can help me and my knowledge grow better.

  8. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.

  9. I don’t know how should I give you thanks! I am totally stunned by your article. You saved my time. Thanks a million for sharing this article.