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Girl in the Bunker

The only reason Elizabeth Shoaf is alive today is because she was smarter and more resourceful than her captor.

For six-days murder suspect Jimmy Lee Dykes held five-year-old Ethan hostage in an underground bunker on his property in rural Alabama. Yesterday, concerned over Dykes’ increasingly erratic behavior, the authorities stormed the bunker, killed the sixty-five-year old hostage taker, and saved the child. I believe that there are definite and important reasons that this tense situation received little publicity and remained low key until after it concluded.

In 2006, fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Shouf was kidnapped after getting off of the school bus near her home in Lugoff, SC. The kidnapper, who gained Elizabeth’s trust by posing as a police officer, was thirty-six-year-old Vinson Filyaw. He quickly handcuffed Elizabeth, placed a bomb around her neck and threatened to blow her up if she tried to escape. He marched the high school student to an underground bunker where he imprisoned her for ten-days. 

While similar in many respects the cases differ in important ways. The authorities did not know that Elizabeth was being held captive in an underground bunker, in Alabama the authorities knew where the bunker was and even opened up a line of communication with the perpetrator. Filyaw was a sex criminal, Dykes was not. Both bunkers were wired for electricity and were equipped with television sets. 

The only reason Elizabeth Shoaf is alive today is because she was smarter and more resourceful than her captor. Although he repeatedly threatened to kill her she remained cool and collected. She devised a strategy to stay alive. She gained his trust through feigned friendship and interest in his life and wellbeing. He began to see her first as a person, and then as a love interest. Filyaw began to believe that they would have a life together. 

Between bouts of abuse Filyaw allowed Elizabeth to watch television, so she was aware that the authorities were looking for her. Ultimately, she convinced him to let her use his cell phone to play video games. On the seventh day of her captivity she was able to text her mother. Elizabeth described hearing trucks and machinery, and mentioned that she was in a hole. 

Kershaw County police released the text message to the media, and Elizabeth watched that report with her captor. An enraged Filyaw realized that Elizabeth had betrayed his trust. Still, she kept her cool and advised him to get as far away from her as possible. Ultimately, he did and after ten days in the underground pit Elizabeth was rescued. 

The lessons of Elizabeth’s captivity were learned and practiced in Alabama. The authorities limited information and tried their best to appease Jimmy Lee Dykes. The media was very careful not to provide any information that Dykes could use to harm little Ethan. They also downplayed the event so as not to further enrage the maniacal kidnapper. Ethan’s family praised Dykes for taking such good care of their child. 

The police, media and public played their hands perfectly and a little boy is alive and beginning his road to recovery. However, I believe that Elizabeth Shoaf’s courage was also a huge factor in the successful recovery of the little boy in the bunker.


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