In 2006, then 14-year-old Elizabeth Shoaf was abducted and held 10 days in captivity. But thanks to her own smarts she managed to escape her horrific ordeal while being held in a bunker. This is the true story of the girl behind the 2018 movie “Girl in the Bunker.”
The movie “Girl in the Bunker,” was written and directed by Stephen Kemp. It is based on the true story of Elizabeth Shoaf and it first aired on Memorial Day, Monday 28, 2018 on Lifetime. You can watch the trailer at the end of this story.
The Abduction of Elizabeth Shoaf
On September 6, 2006 Elizabeth is walking home from school in Lugoff, South Carolina, when a man dressed in combat fatigues approaches her. He claims to be a police officer and places Elizabeth under arrest. When he puts the handcuffs on her, the young girl complies out of fear to get into trouble.
The man is 36-year-old Vinson Filyaw, an unemployed 36-year-old construction worker. He is also a suspect in an unrelated sexual assault.
“He just walked out in camouflage and told me he was the police and that he needed to talk to me,” Elizabeth Shoaf tells NBC’s Today show in 2008. “And then I walked over and he handcuffed me behind my back.”
As for why she was “under arrest,” Elizabeth said Vinson told her it had something to do with marijuana, and that her 12-year-old brother Donnie had already been arrested.
“Then he put like a fake bomb. I didn’t know it was fake, because he told me it was real. But he put it around my neck,” Elizabeth says. “I was confused. I was like, kind of angry, because he had told me he had my little brother with the other people. And then that angered me, because I’m just protective over my brother.”
“He was asking me just like the oddest questions,” Elizabeth says. “If I had a phone and if I was a virgin and–Of all things for a police to ask me, that’s when I kind of was wondering what was going on. Then he said that I was a smart girl and I should have figured it out. And then that kind of got me scared. That’s when my heart started pounding because I knew something was wrong.”
And she is right. Instead of leading her to a police car, as any police officer would, Filyaw walks her into the woods.
Girl in the bunker
For almost an hour, Filyaw and the young girl walk deeper into the woods. To make sure she looses sense of which direction they are going he leads her in circles and doubles back several times.
Finally they stop and Filyaw opens a trap door that is hidden on the ground and leads to an underground bunker.
“He told me to go down a ladder and get into the bunker,” Elizabeth says. “He had like a rifle and a belt that had guns and I saw a Taser in it. So I knew he was really equipped to do anything, if I acted stupid or whatever.”
“It was, like, dirt walls and then over the walls he had some kind of sheet of some kind of fabric,” Elizabeth recalls. “And then he just had, like, his own little homemade bed and homemade shelves and a retarded toilet. It was a broken plastic chair over a bucket. It smelled muggy. Really, really muggy.”
Girl in the bunker 10 days of horror
As soon as they reach the bottom of the ladder, her kidnapper demands of Elizabeth Shoaf to take off her clothes. He then proceeds to rape her. It will not be the only time.
“More than two times every day. Between two and five times a day,” Elizabeth recalls. “All I remember is that it hurt, of course. And I had looked off to the side to one of the shelves that was there. And I was looking’ at it like– there was, like, a propane tank and dishes and stuff on it.”
When he keeps her naked and chains her to the roof by her neck, the young girl realizes that she might never make it out alive. Her kidnapper had it all planned ahead and stacked the bunker’s shelves with supplies to last for a long time.
“In the afternoons, and then at nighttime it’d be really cold. I would sit there for like hours. Just thinking.” Elizabeth recalls.
He also keeps a small, battery-operated TV in the bunker. Elizabeth sees her own picture on the news. They don’t know that she has been kidnapped. The news report just talks about her being “missing.”
Elisabeth Shoaf says, “I watched my mom and my sister and my aunt, and all the other people I saw on the news. And just watched like them talk about how I was missing. And they wouldn’t put an Amber Alert out for me. It made me angry, because they thought I was a runaway.”
When police begin a search for the young girl, she can hear the helicopter flying above the trees. She can even see the volunteers. But they have no idea of the existence of the bunker and therefore don’t search for the girl in the bunker.
“I could actually see their shadows walking across the door above me. And I’m just sitting there while they’re right above me,” Elizabeth says. “And it’s — I didn’t say anything, but he just came up to me and told me that I needed to be quiet and if I said anything, all he had to do is Taser me and it’d knock me out.”
Elizabeth Shoaf sees no hope in being rescued. Her kidnapper had placed booby traps all around the bunker and she believes that they will prevent anyone from getting close enough.
“They were all pretty much on the way towards the water hole,” Elizabeth says. “And he showed me that one thing he had in the ground. It was between these two trees and it was shocking bullets that were, like, pointed upwards. And if you step on it, it will shoot you in your feet.”
The escape plan
Elizabeth tries to think of ways to escape. She even considers to kill her kidnapper, and one night while he is fast asleep she makes an attempt.
“He had a pellet pistol,” the girl recalls. “While he was sleeping, I grabbed it. I pulled the trigger to his head but it got jammed. And I couldn’t– I didn’t want to un-jam it, because then he’d hear it. So I just put it away and cried.”
The failed attempt does not deter the girl from coming up with a better plan. In order to gain his trust, she pretends to fall in love with him.
“I always would do what he told me to do. And like he’d always call me baby. So I’d call him that back. And he’d tell me he loved me, and I told him I love him. Which is– I’d act like I really liked him and I wanted to be with him. I didn’t like it. But I did it anyways. Whenever we would walk through the woods, like to the water hole or back to the bunker, I’d just pull out a few strands of my hair and leave, it like on the ground or on the tree branches, thinking that maybe a dog or some — like a police dog would sniff it.” She recalls.
Filyaw begins to trust her and allows Elisabeth Shoaf to accompany him out of the bunker to get water more and more. Her plan is working.
Girl in the bunker escapes
When Filyaw is using his phone for texting, Elisabeth comes up with a risky idea.
“He’d sit there and text message his wife or girlfriend and that kind of gave me the idea of text messaging my mom,” Elizabeth says. “When he was like real, real deep in his snoring that I knew he was asleep, I would start text messaging.” She recalls. “For three days I did. I wrote so many that like some of them were long text messages and some of them were just short. It always told me it didn’t [send]. Every time I’d send it, it said it failed cause of the signal.”
Then, one night, her plan to escape comes in jeopardy. Filyaw catches her with his phone. Elisabeth plays it off and tells him she is just playing games on it. Filyaw believes her. When he falls asleep she gathers up her courage and climbs up the ladder. She opens the trapdoor just wide enough to stick her arm through with the phone. Again she tries to send the message, but it doesn’t look like the message went through. Or did it?
In the meantime
Back at her home, her mother, Madeline Shoaf, receives a text from an unknown number. It reads, “Hey mom. It’s Lizzie. I’m in a hole down by the road– or by Charm Hill. The road where the big trucks go in and out.”
“I just knew it was her. I mean, I knew it was her, just the mannerism of the text,” Madeline says. “You just sit there and you know how your child talks to you … I was like ‘my God.’ You know, I said, ‘Don, this is her.’”
Sheriff McCaskill asks his techs to trace the message.
He says, “We were able to come together with the marshal service and triangulate between the three cell towers in the area and get the number. And when the number came back that’s when the big break came.”
The”big break” turns out to be that Vinson Filyaw is not unknown to authorities, and they have his address. Filyaw is not at home when police arrive at his door. As they search his home they discover several bunkers on the property. The police use the news channel to put out Filyaw’s photo and name, hoping to get information of his whereabouts from the public.
This makes Madeline worried. What if her daughter’s kidnapper sees the news and finds out that she made contact with the police? What if it causes him to punish or kill her?
But when Filyaw sees his photo on the news, he is scared.
“He was just asking me like if he should pack stuff and he should start leaving or if he should stay and wait it off to see if they never find me,” Elizabeth Shoaf says. “And I just told him that he needed to pack his stuff and leave while he could because the police were going to get him. That I didn’t want him in jail. And I acted like I wanted him to be safe.” Filyaw panics and decides to run, leaving the girl in the bunker.
The next morning, Elizabeth feels safe enough to try and leave the bunker. With all her strength she opens the trapdoor. As she looks outside she hears the search dogs barking nearby.
“I started yelling like ‘hello’, and I yelled it like 10 times and then somebody finally yelled my name back. And then that’s just like a big, big relief I just like fell down and started crying.”
Captain David Thomley is the first person to see the girl in the bunker entrance. “I knew it was her, I could feel it was her. You know, I would have walked thru hell on a Sunday to get to her. I don’t know if you could call it a run in my shape, but I ran as fast as I could. When I went up to her, I put my arm around her and told her I’ve been looking for her everywhere.”
An ambulance takes Elizabeth to the hospital. Cpt. Thomley goes to let Madeline and Don know that their daughter is safe.
“All of a sudden I seen something coming up the road,” Madeline recalls. “I said, is that one of the police officers? When he said that he had her, it was my whole life started again, it was like, my heart just started beating again. And of course, I saw her, I couldn’t stop it. I just jumped on her. You know? I just had to give her a hug and kiss her.”
Elizabeth Shoaf is finally reunited with her family, but she refuses to go home. Back in the bunker, Filyaw had threatened her to harm her brother, Donnie, if she ever were to try and escape. And Filyaw has not been caught, yet.
She tells the police about his guns and bombs.
Elizabeth may have been found, but she refused to go home with Vinson still on the run. He had told the young girl in the bunker that if she ever escaped, he’d go after her brother Donnie. She told police about Vinson’s guns, and bombs.
“I was some kind of mad,” Sheriff McCaskill says. “Oh, I just wanted this guy. I mean, for what she had been through, and I know she had been through for all those days, now wh– the anger really set in. We really got in a manhunt mode.”
Filyaw knows his picture is all over the news and that he needs to get away fast. He comes up to Jennifer Lynn and attempts to steal her car.
“He had a long knife hanging off his belt and a gun,” Jennifer says. “That’s pretty much all I saw is his face. I recognized him from the internet. So I knew right away who he was. I was kind of cursing him out for doing this in front of my child for putting my child through this, he’s already hurt one little girl. He knew he wasn’t getting my keys and he said, OK never mind and started running down the sidewalk.”
Jennifer calls the police. It doesn’t take long and the police apprehends Filyaw as he is trying to run away.
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What happened next
Vinson Filyaw pleads guilty on all 17 charges of rape and kidnapping of Elizabeth Shoaf, and his first victim, a girl named Amber. But Filyaw shows no remorse for what he has done and the Judge sentences him to 421 years in prison.
“I don’t think he should be allowed to live that long.” Madeline says about the sentencing.
While this all was a horrific experience, Elizabeth Shoaf wants to always remember it.
“It’s like, for some reason I like to think about it and people think I’m weird for wanting to think about it,” Elizabeth confesses. “But I just think of it, because I don’t want to forget it, because that’s something I accomplished that a lot of people might not have. And it makes me feel good to know that I got to get through something like that.”
You might also like to read the truth behind the photo dubbed ‘Kiss of Judas’
Girl in the Bunker Trailer
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