Text message leads to kidnapping suspect

Associate Press Writer

A man suspected of kidnapping a 14-year-old girl and keeping her in an underground bunker was arrested Sunday, surrendering without a fight along a highway after eluding police for months with an elaborate system of hideouts and tunnels.

Investigators arrested Vinson Filyaw in Richland County about 24 hours after rescuing Elizabeth Shoaf, who had sent a text message to her mother on Finlaw's phone while he was a sleep, said Sheriff Steve McCaskill in neighboring Kershaw County.

Shoaf had been missing for 10 days and was rescued Saturday from a booby-trapped bunker 15 feet underground.

Filyaw, 37, will be charged with kidnapping, possession of an incendiary device and impersonating an officer, McCaskill said.

He said more charges likely will follow after investigators interview Shoaf on Monday about her Sept. 6 abduction and 10-day ordeal.

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

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

Sheriff's Capt. David Thomley said the bunker the girl was found in was the fourth bunker investigators discovered since they began looking for Filyaw. Authorities believe all the bunkers were dug by Filyaw.

McCaskill said the girl appeared to be unharmed but was taken to Kershaw County Medical Center for evaluation.

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.

Shoaf was kidnapped Sept. 6 after getting off a school bus in this rural area 10 miles northeast of Columbia.

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. He 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.

The bunker was protected by a booby-trap. It had food, shelves and even a stove for cooking, McCaskill said.

Deputies had been searching for months for Filyaw, an unemployed construction worker, on an unrelated charge of criminal sexual conduct against a 12-year-old girl. Officers tried to arrest him at his home earlier this week, but he escaped using a tunnel under his bedroom, the sheriff said.

Since then, Filyaw has likely spent most of his time in the bunkers, the sheriff said.

Sharon Turner, who lived across the street from Filyaw's trailer, said she hadn't seem him in months.

"I told my husband, 'He went underground,' " Turner said.

Like many of her neighbors, Turner said she had been living in fear ever since Shoaf, who lived about a mile away, disappeared. The fear became terror Friday when the sheriff released Filyaw's name and picture.

"You just don't know who is living across your front yard," Turner said.

On Sunday, the driveway in front of Shoaf's home was decorated with "Welcome Home" balloons.

The father of one of Shoaf's best friends came by Sunday morning to check on things. He had been with the family Saturday when the girl was found and said they were all doing well considering the circumstances.

"They just want some time alone with their daughter," Leo Lampart said.

Filyaw's yard was overgrown with weeds Sunday morning, and no one answered the door.

A sign handwritten was still attached to an open gate leading into the back yard. It read: "Anyone who tries to get past this gate will be shot. No questions asked. This includes cops."

The word "cops" was underlined three times.

This is the second South Carolina case this year 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. Hinson was captured after a four-day manhunt.

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