Wisconsin fugitive survives 3 years in bunker

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
Fugitive survives in underground bunker for 3 years

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

A Wisconsin fugitive who disappeared in 2016 just before his trial on child pornography and sexual assault charges has been found living in an underground bunker.

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Jeremiah Button, 44, was arrested Friday after being on the lam for three years. He had been living in a makeshift bunker on state land in the small township of Ringle.

Hunter Thomas Nelson first noticed the door to the bunker a few months ago, but didn't look inside until Friday, WSAW-TV reported.

“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 left the bunker and called police. Button engaged officers in a 20-minute standoff before he surrendered, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.

Nelson told officers that he built the bunker while his case was moving through court, Marathon County Sheriff’s Deputy Matt Kecker told the Journal.

"He was not only surviving, but thriving in this structure through all of the different supplies he was able to find," said Detective Lt. Jeff Stefonek. "Not a lot of air comes in from the outside, and it was a small enough space that he was able to survive the winters, obviously, and keep himself warm, and it's cool down there this time of year, and it is stocked full of all of the items that he was able to pilfer from the Marathon County landfill by sorting through garbage."

The bunker had a TV, computer, radio, LED lights and cooling fans that were powered by outside solar panels hooked to car batteries. Button had a bike-powered generator for days when the sun wasn't out, WSAW-TV reported. He had made a contraption for filtering water.

Button told deputies he hadn't left the area in three years, and only had minimal contact with occasional hikers.

"Given the chance, I think the majority of the U.S. population would choose prison over this type of isolation from human contact," Stefonek noted.

Button is in custody on a $100,000 cash bond and is scheduled for a pretrial conference on Sept. 16. Local Department of Natural Resources personnel are working to dismantle the bunker, Stefonek said.