116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — An Iowa City man shooting an air rifle at a squirrel in his yard inadvertently shot and badly wounded a Marine who was driving by at the time on Oct. 17, authorities announced Friday.
Philip Olson, 69, of Iowa City, faces fines ranging from $305 to $1,055 for violating city code and Iowa Department of Natural Resources regulations. Olson, who came forward during the investigation and was not arrested by police, declined to comment Friday when reached by The Gazette.
The announcement reveals to the public for the first time what police believe happened on the evening that Gabriel Heefner, 20, a lance corporal in the U.S. Marines, was found in a crashed car with a gunshot wound to the head.
Gabe Heefner’s father, Nile Heefner, last month told The Gazette that Gabe was in town from Missouri visiting his grandparents who live in Iowa City.
While his grandparents were at their church group Oct. 17, Gabe drove to pick up food from Panda Express. Police obtained video showing him going through the restaurant drive-through and then driving on Highway 6 eastbound in the left lane. But somewhere before Sycamore Street, he was shot as he drove, his father said.
Gabe was taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where his father said then that he was “fighting to stay alive.” He remains hospitalized there and has been showing improvement but is far from being fully recovered, according to his family.
On Friday, Olson appeared at City Hall to receive his charges, Iowa City Police Department spokesperson Lee Hermiston said.
Olson is accused of violating City Code 8-7-3: Toy Guns and Slingshots, which police say prohibits discharging "any air rifle, toy pistol, toy gun or other toy arms or slingshot" within city limits. The minimum fine is $105 and the maximum is $855, Hermiston said. Olson will have to appear in court to receive the financial penalty, he said.
Olson also faces four violations from the Iowa DNR totaling $200. Department spokesperson Tammie Krausman said scheduled fine amounts for the four cited violations are hunting without a license, $70; hunting without a habitat fee, $30; unlawfully taking or attempting to take squirrels, $70; and shooting over a highway, $30.
Authorities said that three days after the shooting, Olson came to the department to say he had heard about the incident and “admitted to shooting from inside his house at the squirrel and missing” at that time.
Police said Olson fired a .22 caliber air rifle from his home adjacent to Highway 6. They said the rifle uses air pressure — not gunpowder — to discharge pellets.
However, “the air pressure generated creates enough force to injure or kill,” the department said in a news release. “Despite the potential for death or injury, Iowa law does not define such guns as firearms or per se dangerous weapons (a device specifically identified as a dangerous weapon in the Iowa Code).
Police said in a statement that the department, Johnson County Attorney’s Office and the Heefner family “are committed to working towards legislative change to define these weapons as firearms or per se dangerous weapons as they do in several other states.”
Gabe’s mom, Codi Heefner, has been posting daily updates about his condition on Caring Bridge. These updates have also been reposted on a GoFundMe page for Gabe and the Heefner family.
Nearly $67,000 has been raised from more than 900 donations. According to the page, the Marines will cover Gabe’s medical bills and the donations will help with other expenses the family incurs, such as traveling from St. Louis, where they live, to Iowa City. Nile and Codi have been driving back and forth between St. Louis and Iowa City, trading off who visits Gabe and who stays at home with their other two children.
In recent updates, his mother wrote that Gabe has been following commands, such as squeezing hands and tracking with his eyes, and had his breathing tube removed. He has been able to say short phrases, sit up in a chair and take a few steps with support on each side, Codi wrote.
“Reading these highlights might make it seem like all the days (at least recently) are going super well and that everything is getting back to ‘normal,’” Codi wrote. “That is far from the reality of our days.” In an update Thursday, Codi wrote that many days include Gabe getting frustrated or struggling to stay awake to eat his food, stand up or sit in a chair.
“There are days I have to keep giving my fears and what-ifs to God many times a day, and there are days I still cry over everything that has happened,” she wrote. “The truth is that we don't know exactly what Gabe will be capable of regaining.”