Authorities arrest kidnapping suspect

Associate Press Writer

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, 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, he said.

"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."

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.

"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."

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, McCaskgill said.

The unemployed construction worker also is wanted on an unrelated sexual assault charge.

"He dug this pit and this child was in this pit," McCaskill said. "He is linked to her disappearance and he's got to answer for that."

The sheriff said the text message the girl sent to her mother came from Filyaw's cell phone and deputies began looking for him Friday night.

Investigators used cell towers to determine a general location of the phone used to send the message. "That was the first break," McCaskill said.

McCaskill said the girl cried out as searchers approached the bunker where she was found.

"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.

The bunker was protected by a booby-trap, the sheriff said.

Police tracking hounds were brought in to aid in the search for Filyaw, and helicopters with spotlights circled overhead as night fell.

Deputies had been searching for Filyaw 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 had an elaborate escape plan involving a tunnel dug from his bedroom to a shed, the sheriff said.

"When deputies came to serve the warrant, he was able to escape, going under the mattress, going under the trailer and hiding and eluding the arrest," McCaskill 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.

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