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Text Message Led to Girl’s Safe Return

September 17, 2006

LUGOFF, S.C. (AP) _ A text message sent by a kidnapped 14-year-old to her mother led to her rescue Saturday, when police found her in a hand-dug, booby-trapped bunker.

Elizabeth Shoaf’s message also led investigators to name a suspect in her Sept. 6 abduction _ police were searching a wooded area where the girl was found for 37-year-old Vinson Filyaw, said Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill.

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 mother, Madeline Shoaf told WLTX-TV in Columbia. ``She’s a good girl. ... We never believed that she ran away.″

Investigators say Filyaw, 36, may have posed as a police officer when he met Shoaf. 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 girl was walked around in the woods by her captor until she became disoriented. In the bunker, she was threatened with handmade grenades and a flare gun.

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-TV in Columbia. He said Shoaf was not tied up and was very 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. A $5,000 reward was offered for information leading to his capture. Filyaw was considered armed and dangerous.

Deputies have 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 Filyaw 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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