Image: Bunker
Jim Davenport  /  AP
A trap door leads to the hand-dug bunker near Lugoff, S.C.
updated 9/17/2006 11:41:37 AM ET 2006-09-17T15:41:37

Authorities early Sunday arrested a man suspected of kidnapping a 14-year-old girl who sent a cell phone text message to her mother that led to her rescue from a booby-trapped bunker.

Investigators arrested 37-year-old Vinson Filyaw on Interstate 20 in Richland County about 24 hours after rescuing Elizabeth Shoaf, who had been missing for 10 days, said Sheriff Steve McCaskill in neighboring Kershaw County.

Filyaw will be charged with kidnapping, possession of an incendiary device and impersonating an officer, he said.

He said more charges likely will follow after investigators interview Shoaf. Police are letting her rest but probably will talk to her Monday about the Sept. 6 abduction and ordeal that followed.

“The big relief was when we found Elizabeth Shoaf alive and well,” McCaskill said. “But it is a great relief when you get criminal of this type out of society and behind bars.”

15-foot-deep hole
Shoaf was found by deputies about a mile from her home in a 15-foot-deep hole in the side of a hill that was covered with plywood. The bunker had a hand-dug privy with toilet paper, a camp stove and shelves made with cut branches and canvas.

McCaskill said the girl appeared to be unharmed but was taken to Kershaw County Medical Center for evaluation. Police have not interviewed her, saying they would leave her alone until she’s ready to talk.

The sheriff said the text message the girl sent to her mother came from Filyaw’s cell phone. Investigators used cell towers to determine a general location of the phone, and deputies began searching for Filyaw on Friday night.

McCaskill said the girl cried out as searchers approached the bunker.

‘Glad that she’s alive’
“She was standing at the mouth of the bunker with the door open,” sheriff’s Capt. David Thomley told WLTX. He said Shoaf was not tied up and was coherent.

“We’re just glad that she’s alive and she’s safe and that she will be home with us,” her aunt, Geraldine Williams, told WLTX-TV in Columbia. “She’s a good girl. ... We never believed that she ran away.”

Authorities never issued an Amber Alert after the girl went missing in this rural area about 10 miles east-northeast of Columbia. She was last seen getting off a school bus.

Police were tipped off to Filyaw’s location Sunday after getting a call from a woman who said he tried to carjack her about 2 a.m.  outside a pizza restaurant, authorities said.

Filyaw was on foot—about five miles from his house—carrying a pellet gun, a Taser and a long hunting knife when police captured him.

Quick surrender
Filyaw gave up easily, McCaskill said, adding that he doesn’t think the suspect had any help escaping.

“If he had help, he would have gotten much farther away,” McCaskill said.

Filyaw was being held Sunday at the Kershaw County jail. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.

Investigators said Filyaw posed as a police officer when he met Shoaf and the girl was walked around in the woods by her captor until she became disoriented. He used handmade grenades and a flare gun to threaten her while she was in the bunker, McCaskill said.

‘Quite a bit of work’
McCaskill told CNN that the bunker, which was protected by a booby-trap, was about 20 feet long with front and back doors.

“I’m 6’4” and I can stand up in it without any problem,” McCaskill said. “He was able to cook in there. He had a little system set up to let the smoke out as he cooked and it was quite a bit of work he put into it.”

Deputies had been searching for Filyaw, an unemployed construction worker, for months on an unrelated charge of criminal sexual conduct against a 12-year-old girl, McCaskill said.

Officers tried to arrest him at his home earlier this week, but he escaped using a tunnel that led from his bedroom to a shed, the sheriff said.

This is the second case this year in South Carolina involving an abducted teenage girl taken to an underground hideout.

Kenneth Hinson of Hartsville is charged with kidnapping two 17-year-old girls March 14 and taking them to a closet-sized dungeon behind his home. Authorities said the girls freed themselves and walked to safety, and Hinson was captured after a four-day manhunt.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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