Text-Message Leads to Kidnapped Girl’s Rescue
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LUGOFF, S.C. — Authorities early yesterday arrested a man who they suspect kidnapped a 14-year-old girl who was able to send a cell-phone text message to her mother, leading to her rescue from a booby-trapped bunker where she had been held for as long as 10 days.
Investigators arrested 37-year-old Vinson Filyaw on Interstate 20 in Richland County about 24 hours after rescuing Elizabeth Shoaf, Sheriff Steve McCaskill in neighboring Kershaw County said.
Mr. Filyaw will be charged with kidnapping, possession of an incendiary device, and impersonating an officer, he said. He said more charges likely would follow after investigators interview Ms. Shoaf. Police are letting her rest but probably will talk to her today about the September 6 abduction and ordeal that followed.
“The big relief was when we found Elizabeth Shoaf alive and well,” Mr. McCaskill said.”But it is a great relief when you get criminal of this type out of society and behind bars.”
Ms. Shoaf was found by deputies about a mile from her home in a 15-foot-deep, plywood-covered hole in the side of a hill. The bunker had a hand-dug privy with toilet paper, a camp stove, and shelves made with cut branches and canvas.
Mr. 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 is ready to talk.
The sheriff said the text message that the girl sent to her mother Friday came from Mr. Filyaw’s cell phone. Investigators used cell towers to determine a general location of the phone.
Mr. McCaskill said the girl cried out as searchers approached the bunker.
“She was standing at the mouth of the bunker with the door open,” sheriff’s Captain David Thomley told WLTX. He said Ms. 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. “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 Mr. Filyaw’s location yesterday after getting a call from a woman who said he tried to carjack her about 2 a.m. outside a pizza restaurant, authorities said.
Mr. 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. Mr. Filyaw gave up easily, Mr. McCaskill said, adding that he does not think the suspect had any help escaping.
“If he had help, he would have gotten much farther away,” Mr. McCaskill said.
Mr. Filyaw was being held yesterday at the Kershaw County jail.