A Wisconsin hunter stumbled across a makeshift bunker hidden so far off the grid that a man wanted for child sexual assault and pornography lived there without detection for three years.
NBC News reports that 44-year-old Jeremiah Button fled in 2016, shortly before his trial was scheduled to begin in Portage County on child sexual assault and child pornography charges. Since then, authorities have been trying to locate him and got a lucky break when Thomas Nelson, of Wausau, stumbled across a log door built into an embankment.
According to Nelson, he spotted the secret door several months ago on state land in the township of Ringle. On Friday, Nelson came across the door again and this time, noticed it was unlocked. He said he made his way in, curious about what was inside.
Unbeknownst to Nelson, alleged sexual predator Button had chosen the spot to hide out in. The suspect was inside the bunker sleeping when Nelson discovered him.
“I pushed the door open, and I look inside and I can see canned foods, there’s little storage boxes, and I’m like … I gotta go in,” Nelson told WSAW-TV. “I come around the corner a bit and there he is, laying in his bed. I mean, I was shaking when I went in, I was shaking when I went out.”
Nelson fled from the bunker and contacted police, prompting a 20-minute standoff between Button and the responding officers. Button eventually surrendered.
Button reportedly told detectives that he started building the bunker in advance while his case was pending, then waited days before trial to make his escape. For months prior, he stocked the bunker with canned food and items he found at a local landfill.
Sheriff’s Lt. Jeff Stefonek told WSAW-TV that the man even set up solar panels on the roof of the bunker to power electronics, LED lights, and cooling fans.
“He was not only surviving, but thriving in this structure through all of the different supplies he was able to find,” Stefonek said.
Button was initially arrested on charges of “first-degree sexual assault of a child, repeated sexual assault of the same child and possession of child pornography,” Stevens Point Journal reports, citing online court records.
A criminal complaint was first filed against Button in 2014 when school counselors at the Waupaca school system told police a student confided she had been sexually assaulted. The girl reportedly said that Button made her have sex with him and forced her to perform oral sex on him on numerous occasions between 2010 and 2014. Button also allegedly took photos of himself and the girl while they were both naked.
The victim reportedly said that Button gave her an iPhone and supplied her and friends with drugs and alcohol. She said he also threatened her in an attempt to keep her quiet.
Authorities later found a laptop in the suspect’s home that contained a memory card with images of young girls and sex toys. Button claimed he was being set up, according to court documents. He later admitted to the assaults, according to police.
Button is behind bars on a $100,000 cash bond. His next scheduled court appearance is set for September 16.
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