LUGOFF, S.C. – A text message sent by a missing girl to her mother's cell phone led police to where she was found Saturday in a hand-dug bunker in a wooded area near her home.
The message sent by 14-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf also led investigators to a suspect in her kidnapping more than a week ago, Kershaw County Sheriff Mike McCaskill said Saturday.
Shoaf was found by deputies around 7:30 a.m. in a 15-foot deep hole dug into the side of a hill and covered with plywood. The hole also 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 the girl about her ordeal.
"We're going to leave that girl alone," McCaskill said. "Until she's ready to talk."
McCaskill said investigators think 36-year-old Vinson Filyaw kidnapped the girl, who was last seen getting off a school bus on Sept. 6. "He dug this pit and this child was in this pit," McCaskill said.
The sheriff said the girl was walked around in the woods by her captor until she became disoriented. She was kept in the bunker with fear for her life and 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 were able to use 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.
Inside the bunker, deputies found food and propane, leading them to think someone was living there. The bunker was protected by a booby-trap, the sheriff said.
Thomley said it was the fourth bunker investigators have found since they began looking for Filyaw on Friday. He said the bunker was camouflaged and would have been hard to see from the air or the ground.
U.S. Marshals and Kershaw County deputies were continuing to look for Filyaw on Saturday in the area where Shoaf was found. A $5,000 reward was offered for information leading to the capture of the unemployed construction worker. 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.