Man charged in alleged sexual assault of kidnapped girl who sent text message to mom

Monday, September 18th 2006, 8:45 am
By: News On 6

LUGOFF, S.C. (AP) _ Sharon Turner said she was worried when a 14-year-old girl who lived about a mile away disappeared. She hadn't seen the man living across the street _ who was charged last year with criminal sexual conduct on a 12-year-old girl _ for months.

``I told my husband, 'He went underground,''' Turner said.

Authorities say she was right.

Vinson Filyaw had eluded police since November with an elaborate system of bunkers hidden in the woods around his home, Kershaw County Sheriff Steve McCaskill said. Filyaw not only hid from authorities there, they allege, he also raped and held captive the 14-year-old girl.

The girl was rescued Saturday after she sent her mother a text message on Filyaw's phone while he was asleep Wednesday. She was resting and recovering from her ordeal.

``She's doing great, she's a very strong girl,'' her mother said Monday during an interview on CBS' ``Early Show.'' ``I'm just happy to have her home.''

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

He was charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping, possession of an incendiary device and impersonating an officer, and was being held at the Kershaw County jail. The sheriff said he was not aware of Filyaw having an attorney.

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

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 teen was found 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.

``You think you've seen it all and when you see something like this, it's hard to describe, it's hard to imagine,'' Capt. David Thomlee told ``The Early Show'' on Monday.

McCaskill said it looked like Filyaw was trying to dig another bunker under that one as a possible backup, 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 earlier case.

His girlfriend, Cynthia Hall, has been charged as an accessory and with neglect in that case, McCaskill said. Investigators say she allowed the 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 outside a restaurant, authorities said.

Filyaw was on foot, carrying a pellet gun, a Taser and a long hunting knife when police captured him. He gave up easily, McCaskill said, adding that he didn't think the suspect had help escaping.

Authorities said Filyaw was wearing a shirt that had the image of a sheriff's badge on it 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 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, McCaskill said. The sheriff said Filyaw had a prior conviction for burglary and has been charged several times with public drunkenness and driving under the influence.

Filyaw's yard was overgrown with weeds Sunday, and no one answered the door.

A handwritten sign was attached to a gate leading into the back yard. ``Anyone who tries to get past this gate will be shot. No questions asked. This includes cops,'' it read, with the word ``cops'' underlined three times.

Meanwhile, 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 the family. He said it was doing well considering the circumstances.

``They just want some time alone with their daughter,'' Leo Lampart said.