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Man arrested without a fight after kidnapped girl sends phone text message to her mom

Monday, September 18, 2006

LUGOFF, S.C. -- A man suspected of kidnapping a 14-year-old girl and keeping her in an underground bunker was charged Sunday with raping the teen, Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill said.

Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill said Vinson Filyaw had eluded police with an elaborate system of hideouts and bunkers since November 2005 when he was charged with criminal sexual conduct on a 12-year-old girl.

He surrendered Sunday morning to police as he walked along Interstate 20 near Columbia, about five miles from where investigators found the teenager.

Police say Filyaw, 36, abducted the girl as she walked home from a school bus stop on Sept. 6.

Investigators arrested Filyaw in neighboring Richland County about 24 hours after rescuing the girl, who sent a text message to her mother on Filyaw's phone while he was asleep Wednesday, Mc-Caskill said. The sheriff said Filyaw woke up and the girl still had the phone, but she told him she was simply playing with the phone.

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.

"This little lady getting that message out was really the break in the case," the sheriff said. "She helped herself as much as we helped her."

Police say they still have not interviewed the girl, whose name was previously released when she was a missing person. The Associated Press is not using her name because police have identified her as a victim of sexual assault.

The girl was found Saturday about a mile from her home, hidden in a booby-trapped, 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.

McCaskill said it looked like Filyaw was trying to dig another bunker under that one as a possible backup hiding place, but had to abandon it when it filled with water.

Filyaw had dug two bunkers in his own yard and two in the woods and had used them to hide out since he was charged in the assault case in November.

His girlfriend, Cynthia Hall, has been charged as an accessory and with neglect in the earlier case, McCaskill said. Investigators say she allowed the earlier assault to take place in her home and provided Filyaw with supplies to live in the bunker.

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. The sheriff said he was not aware of Filyaw having an attorney.

Investigators said Filyaw posed as a police officer when he met the 14-year-old girl and the teen 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.

Filyaw also has been charged with kidnapping, possession of an incendiary device and impersonating an officer, McCaskill said.

The sheriff said police found off-brand cigarette butts and pornography left behind in all Filyaw's hiding places.

Deputies had been searching for months for the unemployed construction worker. Officers tried to arrest him at his home earlier this week, but he escaped using a hole in the floor of his bedroom that allowed him to hide under his mobile home, the sheriff said.

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

McCaskill said Sunday evening that Filyaw had a prior conviction for burglary and has been charged several times with public drunkenness and driving under the influence.

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 the girl, 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 the teenager's home was decorated with "Welcome Home" balloons.

The father of one of the girl'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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