Teen Shot Geocaching

An American news report brings up a raft of issues that we need to consider in the geocaching community.

A 13-year-old boy from Simi Valley got shot in the leg by a property owner in Oro Grande while the victim was participating in a high-tech treasure hunting game called geocaching.

Lawyers made opening statements on Tuesday in Victorville Superior Court in the trial of 71-year-old Manuel Soria Heim as he faces charges of assaulting the boy with a gun, causing great bodily injury.

The geocachers were hiking on the hill off National Trail Highway near Academy Avenue in Oro Grande looking for several containers hidden there. They heard a voice from the foot of the hill telling them to “Get out,” Kenyon Harman, the boy’s father, testified.

Harman said he couldn’t see the person but he turned back and began walking back up the hill when he heard two popping sounds. Realising they were being shot at, they began running.

As they fled side-by-side, Harman witnessed his son scream and fall. He helped the boy back to their truck, where the group called 911. Once it was discovered that the teenager had a leg wound, he was taken to Victor Valley Community Hospital for treatment.

I would guess that the whole situation would have been terribly scary, especially once the young man had been shot. In most of the caching injuries I have heard of, the cacher tends to laugh them off as part of the fun … I’m not sure this young man will look back on this experience in the same way.

Deputy Public Defender Luke Byward told jurors the defendant had fired the gun out of fear that the geocachers were the same people who had robbed him some six weeks earlier. Heim’s lawyer said drug addicts had constantly been trespassing on his property.

And this raises one of the major issues in geocaching – caches on private property. I certainly cannot comment on the case above, however caches impinging on private property is an issue we need to consider seriously in the geocaching world.

It’s very easy to place a cache on private property, even accidentally. I recently discovered that I was guilty of having a cache on private property when I thought I was on the boundary. Fortunately, no one was shot. 🙂

But it seems to be very easy to stray from public to private land and the case above highlights that we need to be extremely careful in this respect. Not everyone who places a cache gets it right and it’s not the responsibility of the reviewers to second guess (unless, of course, GZ is obviously on private property).

We need to always have in the back of our mind the property issue and be sure that we are on ‘solid ground’ when we are seeking a cache. It is all too easy for us to be mistaken as people up to no good, especially as geocaching does have deviant behaviour associated with it. 😉

I also believe we are too caught up in hiding our activity from ‘muggles’ and don’t openly present what we are doing. I’m sure the father and son in the case above acted as best they could in the situation. But I can’t help wondering whether things would be different if they had yelled back that they were geocaching, rather than turning and fleeing?

Without knowing more of the details, it is also difficult to comment on the culpability of the cache owner. It will be interesting to find out whether the geocachers were seriously off track or whether the shortest route to the cache was over private land. Or was the cache on private property? Has the cache been archived or updated with clear directions?

Hopefully, more information will come to light as the court case progresses, but in the meantime it has certainly given us something to think about.

*Feel free to share your thoughts about this issue in the comments below. 



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  1. Eddie

    You’re certainly on to some good points there – Hiders do need to do as much as research as possible when dealing with these ambiguities – and finders need to also be vigilant and not be afraid to post a ‘needs archived’ when spotting a cache on private land that doesn’t have any note re permission…

    But even when it’s public there can be issues – You make a good point about being too secretive about our activities, which causes more public concern. A local nightcache here (GC2V1AD" rel="nofollow">http://coord.info /GC2V1AD) has experienced such things, with local residents being disturbed by the night-time torch flashing, resulting in a number of confrontations and having the police involved. When cachers were upfront about it the residents were ok (although still a bit unhappy about it), but the greatest concern occurred when cachers said they were doing ‘night-surveys’ or something similarly dodgy sounding….

  2. kjwx

    UPDATE: According to a report in the Mercury News, Heim saw several people clambering down rocks toward his 15-acre property and told them to leave, but they didn’t. So the defendant shot into the air and at the rocks to scare them away; a bullet ricocheted and struck the boy, lawyer Luke Byward said.
    The jury will have to decide whether Heim had reasonable belief he was under imminent danger and responded reasonably to prevent it. If convicted of all charges, he could face about 25 years in prison.
    Heim, who doesn’t speak English well, has Spanish-English interpreters to assist him during the trial.

  3. Geodarts

    It is an unfortunate incident because it was so preventable. It is up to the judge and jury to determine the legal consequences that Heim will face, but apart from that the incident should reaffirm how much care is needed when caches are placed.

    Assuming that the county zoning and parcel maps are correct, this cache (as well as its replacement) are on private land. There is public land a relatively short distance away. It is not always easy to tell the difference when in the field. In most cases, any mistake is fairly minor. I have had an angry property owner confront me when I went to look for a cache that was mistakenly put on private land, but here the individual was armed and inclined to shoot. The result could have been far worse, but was still tragic for all concerned.

    There are readily available tools to determine whether the cache was on public or private land. Mr. Heim may have to face responsibility for his actions. But we should also make sure our actions do not contribute to such problems.

  4. Armed Citizen

    Those “Geocachers” are the same people always causing the bomb scares with their stupid game pieces. They hide them in public places and on private property without permission. Who is sure they were not robbers returning? They did not speak English, but understand 12 gauge quite well. Stay off private property with a silly game without permission.

  5. retrofit

    to update the info, the cachers were NOT on privite property but public land. the shooter yelled at them to leave his personal property (which it wasnt), they were in the process of leaving the area when the man then went got a gun and stot at their backs as they left. shooter is now in prison.

  6. Steve

    Apparently the armed loony got seven years in jail or so.

    Good thing – even if they had been drug dealers on his property (and they were neither), shooting someone in the back as they are running away is not sometihng you do in self defence. I don’t buy the story that it was a ricochet – he was likely shooting at them, though that would be impossible to prove.

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