On September 6th, 2006 in the small town of Lugoff, South Carolina, a man claiming to be a police officer approached fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf after getting off the school bus, just 200 yards from her house.
He put her under arrest for possession of marijuana, but instead of leading her to a police vehicle, he led her into the woods behind her house. About a half-mile from her house in the dense forest, he proceeded to uncover a door that led to an underground bunker. He instructed her to get in and not to try anything because he had the surrounding area booby-trapped. At this moment, Elizabeth realized she had been kidnapped by a man impersonating a police officer.
The bunker contained a homemade toilet, a propane tank for cooking, a small battery-operated TV the man used to stay updated on the search for Elizabeth, and a bed where he would rape Elizabeth 2-5 times daily. A long chain went around her neck to prevent her from escaping. During the first few days of the search for her, Elizabeth could hear a helicopter and even the footsteps of volunteers walking around above the bunker. Although scared she may never be found, Elizabeth used a reverse psychology technique and acted as if she was falling in love with the man who was holding her captive. It worked. He lowered his guard, opened up to her, removed the chain from her neck, and even allowed her to step outside for a few minutes.
After seven days, Elizabeth took the man’s phone while he slept to text her mother. Since she was underground in a dense forest, she was notified her messages were not delivered. There was one text that did; however, go through.
Police were able to identify whom the phone belonged to as well as trace the message and identify the area it came from. Within a couple of days, a risky decision was made by the police department to air the text message and the identity of the phone owner on the news. When Vinson Filyaw saw his name and picture on the news, he was not only furious but scared as well. Vinson decided to run and leave Elizabeth behind. During his absence, Elizabeth escaped the bunker after ten days of being held captive. She screamed for help until Officer Dave Thomley came to her rescue.
Vinson Filyaw had lived nearby and watched Elizabeth as she got off of the school bus each day. He had an outstanding arrest warrant for criminal sexual conduct with a minor. When police searched his home they found numerous holes had been dug: practice for the bunker. A tip led police to Vinson, who was quickly captured. He pleaded guilty to 17 charges and was sentenced to 421 years in prison with no chance of parole.
Elizabeth’s story gained fame through the Lifetime movie based on her story, Girl in the Bunker.