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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Missing Bride to Be found in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Aired April 30, 2005 - 03:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: We are -- we would like to let you know, we are expecting a press conference from Duluth, Georgia, which is the home town of Jennifer Wilbanks. We will bring that live to you as soon as that press conference starts.
Just to recap for you here, just a couple of minutes before 4 a.m., about two and a half hours ago, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, far from her home town of Duluth, Georgia, Jennifer Wilbanks, a 32-year- old missing bride-to-be, due to get married today, missing since Tuesday night, was discovered alive. Apparently she had gone out for a jog Tuesday night near her home in Duluth, Georgia, about 8:30 at night, and from what we're gathering now from police and from Jennifer Wilbanks' family and fiance, and couple had come up from behind her, a male and female couple. They cut her hair.
She now has short hair, we were just told by the spokesperson for the Albuquerque police, and put her into some type of vehicle. There has been some talk of a van, a blue van. We're still trying to confirm that. Somehow, they made their way to Albuquerque, New Mexico. And just about 1:30 or so Georgia time, Eastern time, they let her go is what we're being told, and she made her way to a 7-11 convenience store there in Albuquerque, and started calling family members, including her fiance, John Mason. And he put the word out, and there is a party under way, a celebration under way at John Mason's home in Duluth, Georgia, having heard the news that his fiancee, Jennifer Wilbanks, has been found alive.
We can also tell you that family members, Jennifer Wilbanks' parents, her fiance John Mason, his parents, her in-laws, soon to be in-laws will be making their way to Albuquerque just about, oh, seven hours from now. They said they are going to be catching a plane about 11 a.m. this morning, heading to Albuquerque and as soon as they can, they will bring Jennifer Wilbanks back to Georgia.
We do know that she apparently appears to be, at least on the outside there, appears to be unharmed. She is safe, she is getting medical attention there, she is being interviewed by police, interviewed by the FBI, part of the routine interview and examination will be an exam to find out if Jennifer Wilbanks had been sexually assaulted, apparently she has made some comments to police and investigators there that make them believe that this is an exam they should do, but as we said, this is certainly a routine exam.
So once again, Jennifer Wilbanks should be returning home to her home state, Georgia, possibly as early as this afternoon. John Mason saying that he would like -- he wouldn't be offended if investigators and authorities apologized to him. He was saying that he did take a private polygraph test after his fiancee had gone missing and he had been negotiating with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to take a state test. He had put the demands on and had requested, at least, that it be taped, videotaped, that state polygraph test and that it be in a neutral location. Georgia authorities had agreed that it be in a neutral location but they said that it was against their policy to videotape it.
So now, with his fiancee found safe and alive, he said he would not be opposed to having them apologize to him. We have spoken with many family members here in the last hour or so. We spoke with Harris Wilbanks, Jennifer's father who earlier, apparently last night on Headline News' NANCY GRACE had made a plea for his daughter. A plea to return her safely and if she was able to see the news, to please make her way home and to whoever might have been holding her against her will to please let her go.
That was Harris Wilbanks, and sure enough, he got his wish. The entire family celebrating at the home of Jennifer Wilbanks' fiance at this hour. Want to remind you we are waiting for a press conference out of Duluth, Georgia and we will bring that to you as soon as it happens.
And we can also tell you that the family, as we mentioned, will be heading to Albuquerque to pick up Jennifer Wilbanks. They are celebrating. She has been missing since Tuesday night and over the last few days the search had just been called off as of yesterday, the official search, but over the last few days hundreds of volunteers have turned out around Duluth and around the area. They had found a couple of sweatshirts and some sweatpants. Jennifer had last been seen heading out for a jog wearing a gray sweatshirt and blue sweatpants and blue New Balance running shoes and so there certainly was some concern on the part of her family and relatives and searchers and those praying for her safe return that the clothing that had been found in the Duluth area and about 20 miles outside of that area was not hers.
They had not been able to show that to the family yet before finding out the news that Jennifer Wilbanks is alive. They had also found a clump of hair, hair that appeared to have been cut. That was found in the Duluth area as well and now we're hearing from Trish Ahrensfield, who we spoke with from the Albuquerque police department that Jennifer Wilbanks' hair has been cut so it appears that that was done by her captors, a man and a woman who appeared to have come up on her from behind while she was out on her evening jog and taken her in some type of vehicle to Albuquerque.
Later today they were supposed to get married, Jennifer Wilbanks and John Mason. There was supposed to be a 6:30 service at Thursday night at Methodist Church in Duluth, just northeast of Atlanta and with her missing they had -- the family had planned a prayer service instead. And now we're told by her father and her father-in-law that that prayer service has been called off. Instead, there will be some type of celebration as they make their way to Albuquerque to get her.
The family also coming out just yesterday, Friday, announcing a $100,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of those responsible for her disappearance. We do know there is a search underway in Albuquerque. Authorities there, the FBI, the police, sheriff's department is there, trying to get some information about this couple that Jennifer Wilbanks has been describing to authorities there who may have abducted her, taken her to Albuquerque, they will get their effects in order, they will have her checked out physically, they are in the process of interviewing her now. It appears from what we are told that she understand what happened to her. She didn't know where she was when she called her family. She had apparently been freed by this couple, let out of his car and was able to call home.
When she spoke with her fiance, John Mason, he said he was shaking like a leaf, he told us, and he said he was just hugging on her, trying to send her the love long distance from Georgia to New Mexico and keeping her on the phone and trying to get police to her.
Right now we want to bring in Heather Wilbanks, who is Jennifer's sister-in-law. Heather, are you with us?
HEATHER WILBANKS, JENNIFER WILBANKS' SISTER-IN-LAW (on phone): (unintelligible)
KAYE: How are you doing?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I'm sorry. I can't hear you. What?
KAYE: Well, you're in the midst of a celebration there.
HEATHER WILBANKS: Yeah.
KAYE: Are you at the Mason home as well?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I'm sorry, what was that?
KAYE: Are you at the Mason home as well?
HEATHER WILBANKS: Yes. We're all together and we're all celebrating.
KAYE: Tell us what you felt immediately upon finding out that Jennifer was OK?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I was just elated. I couldn't believe it. It is a miracle from God.
KAYE: Did you ever think that this day would come and that you would get this news?
HEATHER WILBANKS: No. I hoped for it but it's been so long I wasn't sure if we were going to have this ending.
KAYE: Have you been able to speak with her directly yet?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I haven't got to talk to Jennifer directly yet.
KAYE: You have spoken with those who have though? HEATHER WILBANKS: Yes.
KAYE: And what are they telling you?
HEATHER WILBANKS: They're telling us that she is okay. They are taking her to the hospital to have her checked and that she's in police custody, so she is safe.
KAYE: When you think about what she's been through, Heather, can you put it into words what ...
HEATHER WILBANKS: Well, she's a fighter and if there was a way she could get back she would.
KAYE: How has this been for your family since Tuesday, since her disappearance.
HEATHER WILBANKS: It's been the hardest thing that we have ever been through.
KAYE: Can you share a little bit of that?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I mean, it's just like seeing something out of a movie, you don't feel like it's happening to your family and you are sitting there and you are seeing your family on TV and it's unreal.
KAYE: And when you heard that some clothing had been found, what were your concerns at that point? Because it had been reported that a pair of sweatpants and a couple of sweatshirts ...
HEATHER WILBANKS: Yeah, it was scary at first but they had assured us it didn't seem to match what she had on so we didn't really feel like it was hers.
KAYE: And then the other report that had come in that hair that did look similar to her hair color had been found, a clump of it. What ...
HEATHER WILBANKS: The only reason we -- I mean we were worried but they were assuring us that it had been cut so we were pretty much trying to remain optimistic the whole time.
KAYE: Give us an idea of Jennifer and John's relationship. How might this make it even stronger? What kind of couple are they?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I mean, they just have a really strong faith in God and I mean, they are just so similar as far as the things they like to do and I just think this is going to bring them closer because it's brought our family so close and we've just been praying and staying together, just hoping that we would have this kind of outcome.
KAYE: How do you think this might change your family? It is not every family goes through something like this and has a positive outcome.
HEATHER WILBANKS: It's just going to bring us closer than we already were.
KAYE: What would you like to see? Some family members are heading to get her today. She may return to Georgia as early as this afternoon. As quickly as they can, we're told, by John Mason, bring her back ...
HEATHER WILBANKS: Right.
KAYE: What do you expect might be some of the plans from here?
HEATHER WILBANKS: To be honest, I'm not sure. We're just so happy that she's coming home. I'm not sure -- I mean, I'm hoping that eventually we're going to have the biggest wedding this world's ever seen.
KAYE: What are your concerns for her? And this had to have been a traumatic experience for her.
HEATHER WILBANKS: We just need to make sure that she's okay right now.
KAYE: And what do you think your family will do? How do you go about trying to understand what she's been through and sort of putting a pair of collective arms around her?
HEATHER WILBANKS: We're just going to embrace her and be there for her and we're just going to get through this part of it while she's back.
KAYE: What will you say to her when you see her?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I love her.
KAYE: There are about 600 guests that were invited to this wedding. Have you and many of the family members there at John Mason's home been in touch with them and what's sort of in the mood as you make these phone calls and share the good news?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I mean, it's just like a chain. I had people, while I was on the way down here, people were already calling me that had heard. I mean, I think all Gainesville and Duluth probably knew before it hit the news. It was amazing. People were just calling. Calling and calling and calling in the middle of the night.
KAYE: Not only has your family been affected, but really, the entire community in Duluth and your area has been affected. What has it been like for you as a family member just around town? What have you seen, certainly, a pouring out of support there in the community.
HEATHER WILBANKS: That's right. I mean, everybody here, the people from Gainesville to people here in Duluth, I mean, it's just an outpouring of love and they've just blessed us so much, they took care of us, they gave us support, they comforted us. You couldn't ask for people to do any more than they have done.
KAYE: I am sure. Well, Heather, we'll let you get back to the celebration. If you would, would you mind passing the phone over to Jennifer's co-working there, Cami?
HEATHER WILBANKS: I will. Hold on.
KAYE: Thank you. Good to speak with you.
CAMI LEDFORD, JENNIFER WILBANKS' CO-WORKER (on phone): Hello?
KAYE: Hi. Cami Ledford. You were Jennifer Wilbanks' coworker.
LEDFORD: Yeah I used to work with her at the hospital. That's correct.
KAYE: Well, describe her for us if you would.
LEDFORD: Well, she was one of the first people I met when I moved to Gainesville and we just instantly became friends. She never had an enemy. She was never in a bad mood, always had a smile on her face, always had something nice to say to me, always had a hug to give to me. Some of the nicest people you have ever met.
KAYE: And so how long have you known her?
LEDFORD: About four years.
KAYE: And so you don't work with her anymore.
LEDFORD: No, that's correct. She has gone to Heritage OBGYN. She used to work with me at Northeast Shores (ph) Medical Center. That's where I still work.
KAYE: What's all that cheering in the background there? What are they cheering for?
LEDFORD: I think they're just praising God.
KAYE: I'm sure. Give us an idea of what you thought when Jennifer had first disappeared.
LEDFORD: My heart just sank. I mean, I wasn't really sure what to think.
KAYE: Still very emotional for you, I can hear.
LEDFORD: Just lots of mixed emotions.
KAYE: What is it like when a friend goes missing?
LEDFORD: This is honestly like nothing I've ever been through before. I don't even know how to explain it, though. It's the most -- turn (ph) of emotions I've ever experienced and now the happiest moment of my life but has also been some of the saddest moments so it's just absolutely amazing what we've all experienced this week. KAYE: What did you think and were you able to hold out hope or as the search was called off and the clumps of hair and some other evidence found, how were you able to hold out hope?
LEDFORD: I just never wanted to give up hope. I never wanted to believe that she wasn't alive. I just felt like all week that there was some possibility of hope and we just kept praying for the best and just holding on to our faith and it came true.
KAYE: What is it about Jennifer that would tell you and give you hope that she probably was still alive?
LEDFORD: Because she's a fighter. She just never gives up, she is just always been a fighter. She is full of energy, she is just not going to let anybody get her down.
KAYE: And what would you like to -- you haven't spoken to her directly yet but she will be returning here shortly and what do you think, what will you say?
LEDFORD: Just how much we love her and how much we've been looking for her and just everything that -- what she means to us and I think this is a great example of all the people that have come out to look for her and what kind of person she is that in return, as many people love her and have done anything and everything they can to find her again.
KAYE: What do you think Jennifer Wilbanks, having been missing now for three days ...
LEDFORD: I'm sorry, we've got some more celebrating. Can you repeat that?
KAYE: I was going to ask you what do you think Jennifer will need upon her return from her friends and family at this time in her life. We don't know what happened to her over the last few days. We do know she was missing, apparently with a couple, strangers who had abducted her while she was out for her jog. What do you think as a friend she may need from you?
LEDFORD: I think she's just going to need some support and, you know, I don't know what she's been through and I think that's going to be a lot of it. Jennifer is always ready to celebrate with the best of them so I don't know how much of this will affect her. I'm sure it will to a great extent, but at the same time I think she's also going to be ready to get right back into life and to celebrate life.
KAYE: All right. Cami Ledford. Thank you so much for your thoughts this morning.
LEDFORD: Thank you so much.
KAYE: If you would, Cami, Kelly Wood. Can you give the phone to her?
LEDFORD: Yes, I'll give it to her now. KAYE: Than you.
KELLY WOOD, CO-WORKER OF JENNIFER WILBANKS (on phone): This is Kelly.
KAYE: Hi, Kelly. Thanks so much for joining CNN this morning.
WOOD: Thank you.
KAYE: You were scheduled to be a bridesmaid in the wedding, is that correct?
WOOD: Yes, ma'am.
KAYE: And you also worked with Jennifer.
KAYE: I guess -- let's start with the bridesmaid role. What has this experience been like for you and the rest of the wedding party.
WOOD: It's been nothing but excitement and joy. Jennifer was so looking forward to getting married. She's waited so long and then she was so happy that she had found John, she loved him so much and it's just been nothing but excitement watching her prepare for this wedding.
KAYE: She had been missing for about three days and there was a lot of talk about so called cold feet, which some brides and some grooms do get. What were your thoughts on that? Did you know Jennifer as your friend better than that this whole time.
WOOD: Yes. I never once thought it was cold feet. I knew Jennifer too well and she was too excited and I knew that she had not gotten cold feet.
KAYE: And what has been the talk among the wedding party now? What do you think the plan will be? Is there one in place yet?
WOOD: I'm sorry. I can't hear you.
KAYE: Have you heard any talk with the wedding obviously called off for later this evening, have you heard any talk of when ...
WOOD: I have not.
KAYE: No? What are your plans in terms of trying to help Jennifer after an experience like this, going through it?
WOOD: Just to be there for her any way I can. Pray for her to have strength and just anything she needs.
KAYE: Had you been one of the people who helped search for her?
WOOD: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
KAYE: Kelly, had you taken part in any of the searches?
WOOD: Yes, I have been here every day.
KAYE: And what was that like?
WOOD: Oh it was horrible, just to know that I was searching, walking up and down the street and it just hit me that I am not only walking up and down the streets looking for someone but it's Jennifer.
KAYE: And the waiting and the not knowing.
WOOD: It's been -- I can't even describe how horrible it's been just to not know where she is or what happened to her, if she's okay or not.
KAYE: Were you hopeful -- obviously you were hopeful, but were you confident that this would be the outcome?
WOOD: I did not know, I just had to keep faith in God and just pray that he would keep her safe.
KAYE: And you know John Mason fairly well through Jennifer?
WOOD: I'm sorry?
KAYE: You know John Mason, her fiance?
WOOD: Yes, ma'am.
KAYE: How would you describe him over the last few days with all the talk about whether or not he should take a polygraph test and the pressure on him to do so, what has it been like for him?
WOOD: There was never a doubt in my mind that John had anything to do with this. He loves God and loves Jennifer and I just never pictured this -- I never thought that he was even involved at all.
KAYE: Is this something that Jennifer would often do? Would she go out late in the evening and jog on her own?
WOOD: Yes, Jennifer loved running and she did not have a schedule. She would run in the mornings and the evenings. We ran sometimes after work. It was not unusual at all for her to run in the evening.
KAYE: And give us an idea of the scene there. You're at John Mason's home, where Jennifer Wilbanks was in the process of moving into, preparing for her wedding which was to have taken place later today. Now she is found safely and there is a celebration underway there at the Mason household. Can you set the scene for us a bit?
WOOD: There is -- everyone here is crying, cheering, screaming, praying. Everything is going on. Everyone is just so happy. There is hundreds of people from the wedding party. Friends, church members, family and everyone is just so thrilled. KAYE: Is there any kind of plan now that there won't be a prayer ceremony as scheduled at the Baptist Church. Is there any other type of plan for this evening in place of the wedding?
WOOD: I have not heard of anything yet.
KAYE: What about you and the rest of the bridal party and friends? Any plans to welcome her home in any special way?
WOOD: I think as far as I know just to be here, if we can be here when she gets here that would be great. Just to -- whatever they would have us do. I don't think we would rather be anywhere else but here.
KAYE: Okay. Kelly Wood. Thank you so much. You also have worked with Jennifer ...
WOOD: Yes, I worked with Jennifer every day.
KAYE: And has there been any sort of void there in her place without ...
WOOD: Yes. She and Tiffany, who is the other midwife in our practice and I are the only three in our building and Tiffany and I just have not -- we did not want to be there. It was just not right without Jennifer.
KAYE: What does she bring to the office on a daily basis?
WOOD: She brought this huge bag full of wedding stuff. Everything that she was trying to get ready. We had looked through it every day and just looked at the things she had picked out.
KAYE: And do you want to continue that or do you want to get back to that celebration?
WOOD: I think there is a celebration going on out here beside the house.
KAYE: I am sure there is a lot of celebrating going on.
KAYE: All right. Kelly Wood, thank you very much for your time and I'm glad that you are going to have your friend back.
WOOD: Thank you and can I just say that we love Jennifer and she means everything to us and I just thank God that she is alive and she is okay.
KAYE: Thank you for your time.
WOOD: Thank you.
KAYE: And just to update and recap once again here, Jennifer Wilbanks, 32 years old from Duluth, Georgia. Scheduled to get married later today and has been missing since Tuesday evening about 8:30 when she went out for a jog. She's a marathon runner. Disappeared and about 1:30 or so Eastern Time was found alive in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
We would like to share a little bit of our interview from earlier with Claude Mason. He is the soon to be father-in-law of Jennifer Wilbanks.
CLAUDE MASON, FATHER OF JOHN MASON (on phone): Will be my daughter in law.
KAYE: Yes, absolutely. It does appear that way. How does this news sit with you and how are you feeling at this moment?
C. MASON: I'm about as high as I can get right now, without having taken any foreign substances.
KAYE: I understand. Tell us if you would how you found out that Jennifer was okay, how did ...
C. MASON: John got a call -- they got a call. She evidently was abducted and got loose out there or they got scared and let her go and she got on the phone and she was able to find a phone and made a collect call here so that's how we found out and John called us, so ...
KAYE: And Claude, do you anything about her captors? Was she able to share anything about what they may have wanted or had they threatened her or harmed her in any way?
C. MASON: Evidently did not harm her. It's something about money. They never did make any demands on that though so we just don't know. We don't have any details at all.
KAYE: And when will you be going out to Albuquerque to pick her up?
C. MASON: Later this morning.
KAYE: Later this morning.
C. MASON: Yeah.
KAYE: And who will be going with you?
C. MASON: It will be my wife and I, John and the -- Jennifer's mother, father, stepfather and stepmother. So there will be seven of us.
KAYE: Claude, if you would, can you just talk a little bit about how this time has been for you and your family, to not have given up hope. The search was called off, the official search was called off, there had been ...
C. MASON: We never lose hope. We never lost hope.
KAYE: How did you hold on to it?
C. MASON: We -- by a thread. A thin thread. We never talked about cancellation of anything, we talked about postponement. That's what we did. Our hopes were -- got low, but we never totally lost hope that we would find her.
KAYE: But certainly, as the days continued and there were sweatpants, a sweatshirt found.
C. MASON: Like I said, it was getting dimmed but we never lost total hope that it was going to happen.
KAYE: And can you share with us at all a little bit about your son, John. We've seen this, we've seen fiances and wives disappear. We know your son did take a private polygraph test and pass, was in negotiations to take one with law enforcement. How is he feeling now?
C. MASON: I can't describe it.
KAYE: Try to if you would.
C. MASON: He has just as many smiles -- he's hugging anybody he can. We're waking up the whole neighborhood but that's okay.
KAYE: What are your plans for a celebration?
C. MASON: We haven't talked about that yet.
KAYE: I understand you were supposed to have a prayer service in place of the wedding.
C. MASON: Yes. Naturally, we will not have a prayer service anymore, unless it's a praise service, it becomes that if we still have it but we will not be there because I do not think we'll be back in time. We're not -- We're going to leave that to somebody else to decide.
KAYE: Any talk of when this wedding might happen?
C. MASON: Oh, it may happen on the plane coming back. I don't know. Because I have the authority to marry them, I could marry them on the flight on the way back.
KAYE: That's not a bad idea. Is your son around, Claude, could we get a quick work with him?
C. MASON: Let's see.
KAYE: Just a brief one.
C. MASON: Naw, he just went back inside the house.
KAYE: He did.
C. MASON: Yeah. Maybe -- but I'll give you back to John and he could go find him.
KAYE: Maybe you could find him for us. That would be great. What about Jennifer's parents. Have you spoken with them?
C. MASON: Oh, yes. We've spoken, we hugged, we're ready to go get her.
KAYE: Ready to go get her. Those are the words of Claude Mason, Jennifer Wilbanks' soon to be father-in-law telling us that Jennifer will be his daughter in law. He says that he never talked of canceling the wedding that was scheduled for later today. They had talked about postponement. They always held out hope that Jennifer would be found alive and indeed she has. He says he held onto that hope by a thread.
That was Claude Mason joining us earlier this morning. We want to share with you now some comments by Jennifer Wilbanks' father, Harris Wilbanks.
HARRIS WILBANKS, JENNIFER WILBANKS' FATHER (on phone): She was very emotional, happy and shook up and she's okay. I think they were going to take her to the hospital and check her out. I don't think she's been hurt.
KAYE: Do you know -- did she know where she had been all this time?
HARRIS WILBANKS: No. She did not. She did not have a -- when she called, it was a collect call to John's house and her stepfather answered the phone and had a collect call from Jennifer and when he got online he asked her where she was and she was, of course, hysterical, did not know and I kept talking to her, John talked to her, we got the chief down here to talk to her and trace the call and they found out it's Albuquerque, New Mexico and they kept on the phone and she got describing kind of where she was and anyways the police were able to find her and of course she stayed on the phone until the police found her.
KAYE: Sure. How scared did your daughter sound?
WILBANKS: Very scared, she just sounded tired. She was very emotional.
KAYE: That was a piece of our conversation earlier with Harris Wilbanks, the father of Jennifer Wilbanks. About three hours ago the celebration got underway at the home of John Mason, who is Jennifer Wilbanks' fiance. That is following word that Jennifer Wilbanks was found alive safe and sound in Albuquerque, New Mexico, far from her home in Duluth, Georgia just outside Atlanta. She had been missing, just to recap, since 8:30 or so on Tuesday night. She had gone out for a jog. Now she is telling authorities there in Albuquerque and her family members who have shared it with us that apparently a couple had attacked her from behind, forced her into some type of vehicle, possibly a van, possibly a blue van.
The law enforcement there in Albuquerque is trying to determine that and took her to Albuquerque, New Mexico. From what we understand, she is safe, she is being interviewed by the FBI there and she is getting some medical attention and we would like to share with you our interview from just a short time ago with Trish Ahrensfield, who is the spokesperson for Albuquerque police.
TRISH AHRENSFIELD, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE (on phone): I can tell you that she is safe, I walked into the briefing room where she was standing and talked to her for just a second and she is alive and well and she is with a bunch of different police officers and detectives so we are going to be getting her medical attention and she just spoke with the FBI and so right now that is what we're doing and ...
KAYE: Can you give us an idea of -- was she wearing her own clothes or what was her ...
AHRENSFIELD: I don't know if I can -- I think she had some sort of sweatshirt on and she looked tired.
KAYE: Now the reason it was important to determine whether or not she was wearing her own clothes was because some of the evidence that had been discovered in the area of Jennifer Wilbanks' home was a pair of sweatpants and a pair of -- a couple of sweatshirts actually, and Jennifer had last been seen wearing a pair of sweatpants and a gray sweatshirt. Those sweatpants were blue, they hadn't had a chance to show the evidence yet to her family to determine if they were hers.
There was also a clump of hair found at the scene around the Duluth, Georgia area that appeared to not have fallen out but to have been cut out from someone's hair and it appeared to match the color of Jennifer Wilbanks, so also in speaking with Trish Ahrensfield from Albuquerque police we were able to determine that Jennifer Wilbanks' long, dark hair is now short, dark hair. So whoever did abduct her that was the case, it does appear that they did cut her hair to change her appearance.
So Jennifer Wilbanks certainly the woman of the hour, John Mason, the man of the hour, her fiance. He had taken a private polygraph test and passed it in response to her disappearance. He was in the process of negotiating with authorities here in Georgia on a state test. He had asked that the test be videotaped and asked it to be done in a neutral location. Authorities had agreed to that but they said they would not videotape the tests.
The negotiations were still underway. John Mason certainly celebrating news that his fiancee has been found alive in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Listen to what he told us earlier. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)
JOHN MASON, JENNIFER WILBANKS' FIANCE (on phone): It's got to make it stronger. It's just proof positive that God exists and he answers prayer and he still listens to his people and when you need him you go to the Lord and the Lord answers your prayers and that's -- because that's all we've been doing, all of us here. And he delivered her back to us.
KAYE: What was it like, just the not knowing and the waiting? Here you are due to get married later today and having no idea your fiancee went out for a jog, this was supposed to be the most exciting time in your life but certainly not for this reason.
MASON: The not knowing the -- I don't know how to explain it, I really can't. It's just an impossible feeling.
KAYE: Mason also telling us earlier that when he heard the sound of his fiancee's voice, it was just very, very emotional for him when he first found out that she was safe and sound in Albuquerque. He tried to keep her on the line and as he says, hugging on her long distance as long as he could, try and keep her on the line and try and figure out a way for police to set up a trace and find out exactly where she is.
Apparently Jennifer Wilbanks let go in an area in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where there was a 7-11 convenience store. She found a pay phone and that's where she started calling her family, so a trace was discovered, she was sharing some street signs and some locations there and police officers from the Albuquerque Police Department arrived there on the scene. They were, from what I understand from the spokesperson of Albuquerque police were as shocked to see her as she was to see them. One of the officers apparently, two, showed up on the scene there. One of the officers apparently recognized her right away and called back to Albuquerque police and said you won't believe who we have here.
So certainly a lot of shock, but very good news there in Albuquerque. We understand that she is being interviewed by authorities there in New Mexico and her family, including her parents, her fiance, her soon to be in-laws will be making their way from Georgia to New Mexico. At some point later this morning to get their arms around Jennifer Wilbanks and bring her back to Georgia as quickly as they can. Claude Mason, her soon to be father-in-law telling us that he may just marry them on the plane. He has the authority to do that.
The couple was scheduled to be married 6:30 this evening but that had been called off, in fact it had been replaced with a prayer vigil and that too, in response to her safe finding has been called off as well.
Charles Molineaux now is with us now on the line. Charles, what can you tell us? CHARLES MOLINEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on phone): The scene now here is obviously -- imagine whatever analogies you can think of, from rollercoaster, the works, and now we are hearing these spontaneous bursts of applause as sketches of news have come in. The family has gathered all around the house, obviously, a very, very dramatically different situation from what it was last night when the word came in that Jennifer Wilbanks has in fact appeared safe and sound in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She did talk on the phone to some of her relatives earlier this morning. She sounded fine. She was very emotional. She was outside of a convenience store in Albuquerque, where she told her family that she had been accosted by two people who threw her in a van, cut her hair and she didn't know where she was and the call actually had to be traced to figure out where she was and now of course the relatives, her fiance, John Mason, are planning to head to Albuquerque to have a reunion and it's going to be one very relied one. This is a good solid three days as of last night that anybody had last seen her alive and well.
As you can imagine, a lot of people, including the police, are really starting to become concerned. Yesterday the police announced they were calling off their formal search of the area, they had gone over just about everything in a five square mile area, that she was last seen jogging Tuesday night some three times already and were fresh out of ideas and were continuing this investigation but now had pretty much concluded that it was some sort of criminal act that had resulted in her disappearance and sure enough, according to the story that she has now told her family from Albuquerque New Mexico, where she turned up. That's what happened. Someone kidnapped her but an incredibly joyous scene here, a lot of relief, a lot of emotion and that wedding that was scheduled to go on today probably won't be going on today but it's going to be a happy reunion and it looks like everything is going to happen after all, so a pretty dramatic scene here right now as crowds of relatives and well-wishers, bridesmaids, the minister from the Methodist Church here in Duluth, Georgia, all coming together and celebrating the fact that Jennifer Wilbanks has turned up alive and well after three days missing.
KAYE: Charles, this really has had a great impact not only on the family but this has certainly spilled over into the community. We saw it in the last few days, hundreds of volunteers searching for one of their own.
MOLINEAUX: Absolutely, and these were two families very well- known in this area. This was going to be a very large wedding. Some 600 guests were expected, 14 bridesmaids, and Duluth is not a very large community, it is a big suburb of Atlanta but not the big community by any stretch an en event like this suddenly turned into a desperate search for somebody and as the days went on the concern became frantic and not quite despair, but you are talking about a situation that became extremely emotional and the signs for Jennifer and people asking where they were. You could see anywhere you looked, you'd pull into a drug store on the corner and there was her picture in the window looking at you and obviously the police, very concerned.
(unintelligible) community and the area had pulled together in the search for Jennifer in the hope that she would turn up okay but being that she might be here somewhere. Police alluding to the fact that maybe she had cold feet and everyone in this community saying inconceivable, they knew her, they knew her fiance, John Mason and the idea that she would have just taken off is hard for anybody to imagine but harder still to imagine was the idea that something really tragic had taken place and then in the news, in the wee hours of this morning, she called her fiance, John Mason collect from Albuquerque, saying that she was alive and that she had been taken. Very brief conversations with her family and police have been trying to find out what happened since.
The FBI has been speaking to her in Albuquerque and plans are now underway for her family to fly out there for a reunion that is going to be pretty emotional, as you can imagine.
KAYE: Sure is, and it really is remarkable considering that her family just yesterday establishing a reward of $100,000 and then the news that police and investigators have called off the official search and that's when you think, oh no, and so to have this come out as the result, that Jennifer Wilbanks is found alive is really, truly, a miracle.
MOLINEAUX: It's got to be considered that way. When police said yesterday that they had essentially exhausted their manpower, that they had, as one of them put it, turned over every leaf in Duluth, that was when you started to think that this story could not possible have a good ending, and to have it suddenly turn around so dramatically in the course of a matter of hours, that has been something that this entire community has been just stunned about and the scene outside the house has really been amazing to see. People milling around, the police of course up until this point at the center of this entire scene, stepping off to the side and letting the family enjoy this exuberant moment. Standing outside the house you would hear these periodic bursts of applause and cheers coming from inside, as Jennifer's relatives greeted each new development with excitement and joy and they're one very happy family today. A major relief and the plans for this wedding may be delayed but they will now go ahead, the minister just announced, oh yes ...
KAYE: OK. Charles, stand by for just a moment. We want to listen in here to KOAT TV.
AHRENSFIELD: The victim that was taken from Georgia. We have a lot of work ahead of us, we have not interviewed her yet. She is safe and so we have a lot of steps in the next couple hours and will be obtaining suspect information in the future to get that out. It's a possibility that she was dropped off here and released and all that is still being investigated. So at this time she is here, she is with police, she doesn't appear to be any life threatening injuries, we're going to get her medical attention and we will be talking to her in the next couple hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What was the circumstance that you all came to find her in the back of police car?
AHRENSFIELD: My understanding is that this female called her family, called their police their and through that we were dispatched, basically we were disconnected, the police there to the police here and we then received a call and that's when we found her at Solano and Central.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: APB got a call saying please go to Solano and Central?
AHRENSFIELD: Yes, in reference to a possible kidnapping victim.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And who responded to -- the beat sergeant ...
AHRENSFIELD: The sergeant, I believe a couple beat officers and good police work led them to possibly have a link to a possible connection with the female from Georgia and so they called their sergeant and that is where we are right now, and again, more importantly, she is safe and with us.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what made you guys think that there is this connection between the (unintelligible), was it something that she said that tipped you guys off?
AHRENSFIELD: Yes, I believe she made several comments, and not only that, things had been plastered all over the news about a female from Georgia and I guess the officer, I believe, almost recognized her so at this time we have not confirmed that but it's a very high possibility that we believe this is her and she is safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And you mentioned you had actually gotten to talk to the sergeant. What was his reaction? What was the officers bead on the whole situation. It's got to be ...
AHRENSFIELD: I think they're amazed, the fact that if in fact this is her that she is here and she is alive and not injured and it appears at this time, again, no life threatening injuries, so we are very glad that she is safe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I take it some degree of shock but she is able to communicate ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And talk about who she is ...
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And what may have happened to her?
AHRENSFIELD: Yes. And the FBI is now going to interview her very shortly. So as soon as we have better concrete information so we can get out suspect information, we'll get that out immediately.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know there's been some speculation that given her wedding that was coming up soon that she may have just taken off on her own. Is there anything to lead you guys to believe that this is not the case and she was actually -- that this victim was held against her will and actually kidnapped? AHRENSFIELD: We don't know and that's very preliminary right now, our detectives, when I just walked out, the detectives haven't even walked in to interview her and meet her yet. So any thing would be not accurate or confirmed that I could tell you except that it's very much a high possibility that this is her and we'll be taking the steps to get all of her information and, again, get her medical attention and go from there.
We're not saying anything else. I don't know anything else.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've got two more questions.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you know how long the time delay was between her getting dropped off and you all getting the call?
AHRENSFIELD: I believe it was, from my understanding, immediately, but I don't know that sure. Sounds like it was immediately.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And the intersection of Solano and Central, do you know exactly where ...
AHRENSFIELD: 3801 Central, I believe.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a payphone?
AHRENSFIELD: Wherever that is. Yes.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Quick question. A shooting happened this evening. Can you tell me just a little about that?
AHRENSFIELD: I don't know anything about it. I heard it when I was driving in, so I know that we had a shooting somewhere and we found a victim later, so a victim with possibly some sort of head injury, so I'll follow up on that in a little bit.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Obviously that's ...
AHRENSFIELD: Yeah. I know. I don't know about that. I did ...
KAYE: And listening there to Trish Ahrensfield from our affiliate there, KOAT. You are looking right now at some of the scene video also coming from our affiliate there in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Those are some pictures of the 7-11 area, the convenience store area. 3801 Central, Solano and Central in the Albuquerque area, which is where Jennifer Wilbanks apparently made that phone call from a payphone. We're not sure yet, haven't been able to confirm with authorities if that is where she had been dropped off by her captors. A couple apparently had taken her while she was out on her jog last Tuesday night and put her in some type of car, possibly a van, and drove her from Georgia to New Mexico, but this is the area where she made a collect call, a very happy collect call to her fiance, John Mason, in Georgia, to let him know that she was alive. We are being told that her captors let her go. We're not sure for what apparent reason. There were never any demands for money, we do understand that they did cut her long dark hair, to short dark hair, attempting to change her appearance. She is being interviewed. The brief interview there that you just saw with Trish Ahrensfield with the Albuquerque police was handled earlier tonight. In the time since then they have confirmed that was indeed Jennifer Wilbanks. She was, indeed, being interviewed by the FBI.
They called to the scene by a reference to a possible kidnapping victim. Apparently John Mason, her fiance here in Georgia staying on the phone with her as long as possible to try and get a police trace across state lines. He did so successfully and the Albuquerque police force were able to arrive there at the scene. One of the officers, because of all the news coverage about Jennifer Wilbanks, the missing bride to be, recognized her and called in and said you won't believe who we have here, apparently according to the spokesperson there.
Arriving on the scene was a sergeant and some beat officers, apparently just a few moments had passed in the time that she had been freed or dropped off in that area to the time that she made that phone call. We are trying to learn more about the couple that may have abducted her and put her in a car. We understand it's a male and female. We don't have any word on their age and from what we understand, authorities there in Albuquerque are trying to gather information from Jennifer Wilbanks about them and certainly try to find them.
All of this went down, we're coming up on three and a half hours now. It was about 1:30 Eastern Time when Jennifer Wilbanks called home to Georgia to let her family, her fiance, everyone who has been searching for her and praying for her safe return to let them know that she was indeed all right. Later today, she was scheduled to marry John Mason. That wedding has been postponed. Speaker with her soon to be father in law, Claude Mason, earlier today, he said Jennifer will be his daughter-in-law, never wanted to actually cancel the wedding. They always talked of postponement and held on to hope by a thread but there is the scene where, somehow, some way, Jennifer Wilbanks, 32 years old, resident of Duluth, Georgia, was able to get away from her captors, not sure how willingly they let her go, but apparently they did let her go. Not sure what the circumstances were and this was the area where the police showed up at that convenience store at Solano and Central in Albuquerque, New Mexico, far from her hometown of Duluth, Georgia, outside Atlanta.
We're told that she was not harmed, she seemed to know who she was and where she was. There didn't seem to be any life-threatening injuries, we're told. She will get some medical attention and we want to continue to speak with those who were just so thrilled at this hour that Jennifer Wilbanks has been found alive. Lindsey Satterfield, who is one of the bridesmaids in the wedding is joining us now by phone -- Lindsay.
LINDSAY SATTERFIELD, WILBANKS' COUSIN: Yes.
KAYE: What is your reaction to this news?
SATTERFIELD: Oh this is amazing, this is -- Jennifer's alive, best words I've heard in my whole life, literally.
KAYE: What has it been like? The news coverage has certainly been pretty much wall-to-wall, trying to help authorities in the search for her and family and friends. What has it been like for you as a friend and a bridesmaid to see what had been happening in the life of one of your dear friends?
SATTERFIELD: Well, actually it's my cousin, so it is even more -- This is family and we all came together when we had to -- getting that phone call on Wednesday and flew straight in and we knew we just had to come together. We just had to find her. We had to do all that we could.
KAYE: Until just about three and a half hours ago, what had you been doing to your family? What does a family go through?
SATTERFIELD: You laugh, you cry, you tell stories, you spend time together, you hug, you love each other and strength in numbers, we have a very large family and we're very fortunate for that. And we just all came together and Jennifer gave us our strength, we knew she was alive, we were just looking for the answers to get to her.
KAYE: How would you describe your cousin Jennifer?
SATTERFIELD: She was the most -- her personality was so contagious. As you can see in all the photos, she smiles so bright, her eyes are so brown, most friendly person you can ever imagine. If anyone could get a telephone poll (ph) to talk to her and conversate with her, she could do it.
KAYE: And can you talk a little bit about John Mason, the family's support for him never wavering, always fully supporting. The idea of him taking the polygraph test, certainly one of the bigger issues in this case. Talk a little bit about how the family getting behind John Mason.
SATTERFIELD: Well it wasn't getting behind. The day we met him she brought him into the family and she knew he was the one and that's all that mattered and he's been Cousin John ever since and two families came together and that's even more strength in numbers and there was never a question in our minds. People truly love each other and that's all you can go on these days. Life's too difficult. Look at issues like this and she's very fortunate that she found someone that loved her as much as he loved her.
KAYE: He certainly sounds like he does the way he was talking with us earlier. I mean he is just sending her that love through the phone lines as long as he can until he gets to hug her personally. What is he like?
SATTERFIELD: He's so bubbly. Just how you see him on TV and through his words. His spirits have been so high through all of this, it has just been amazing that he's -- How could it (ph) just as friendly as she is and we're grateful to have another cousin in the family. KAYE: And how was it for you to try and hold onto the hope with the search being called off and some sort of strange evidence being found, a clump of hair, some sweatshirts, some sweatpants that may or may not have been hers -- How did you get through it?
SATTERFIELD: Well, hope and strength in faith and when you have faith in God he makes it easier for you. We kept believing that she was out there and we just kept praying to get answers to find her and get to her and that's just what happened and that's what happened.
KAYE: Okay. Lindsay Satterfield. Thank you so much.
SATTERFIELD: Thank you so much for everything you guys did. Thank you.
KAYE: We're so happy for your family.
SATTERFIELD: Thank you.
KAYE: We want to get back to Charles Molineaux, who is there at the scene of John Mason's home, who has some news for us as well. Charles?
MOLINEAUX: Well, actually, we've got Harris Wilbanks here. This is Jennifer's father and it has been hellacious past few days for him, as you can imagine. Thank you so much for being with us. Let's talk about where you were about midnight tonight, because the word came in shortly afterwards. What happened?
HARRIS WILBANKS: About midnight, like I was saying, I was probably about the lowest point in my life. I was tired, heartbroken and absolutely really sick about my daughter.
MOLINEAUX: All right. And then what happened? What did they tell you?
HARRIS WILBANKS: Actually, I went to bed about that time and I actually went to sleep. I haven't slept very much in the last three nights and about 2:00 the phone rang and of course, your heard falls down into you stomach and it was John ...
MOLINEAUX: John Mason, Jennifer's fiance.
HARRIS WILBANKS: Jennifer's fiance. He was so excited and babbling and I couldn't hardly understand what he was saying, all I heard was "Jennifer's alive" and I asked him where is she? And he said "I don't know, she's at a payphone or something and we were so excited and screaming and hollering. And I come to find out he did not know where she was at that time. Jennifer had called here, made a collect call here and her stepfather, Roger Parish, answered the phone and of course it was Jennifer and she was very upset, very emotional and Roger asked her where she was and she said she didn't know.
MOLINEAUX: Now you spoke to her shortly afterwards. What happened and how did you ... HARRIS WILBANKS: I spoke to her when I got here. I drove here from Gainesville and I spoke to her just very briefly. She was very emotional, I was able to tell her I love her and ask her if she was okay and she was and she was at the Albuquerque police station and I think they were fixing to take her to the hospital just for observation.
MOLINEAUX: Was she able to tell you anything about what happened?
HARRIS WILBANKS: I did not ask her at that point in time. I thought we'd talk about that later. The main thing, she was okay.
MOLINEAUX: What do you do now?
HARRIS WILBANKS: Oh, I'm fixing to get on an airplane sometime this morning and I'm flying to Albuquerque, New Mexico and bringing my daughter back home.
MOLINEAUX: What about the wedding? That's the one everyone wants to know about.
HARRIS WILBANKS: Oh the wedding right now is probably postponed but we ought to have the wedding in downtown Duluth and let everybody be a part of this because the community has been unbelievable.
MOLINEAUX: Harris Wilbanks, thank you so much for talking with us. We really appreciate it. It's a pretty dramatic story and a dramatic scene here at the Mason home which has been the seen of these periodic explosions of spontaneous applause and cheering. Quite a dramatic scene here this morning and of course, the family is planning to fly out at about 11:00 Eastern Time to Albuquerque for what is going to be an incredible reunion with Jennifer and as you heard, the wedding is going on. It is going to be a little delayed but going to be an incredible celebration, here in Duluth, Georgia.
KAYE: All right. Charles Molineaux, thank you so much for that interview with Harris Wilbanks, Jennifer Wilbanks' very happy father.
And just to recap for you right now, the good news coming out of Albuquerque, New Mexico, far from her home in Duluth, Georgia. The missing bride to be, Jennifer Wilbanks, 32 years old, missing since Tuesday night, about 8:30, when she went out for a jog, has been found alive. Apparently telling her fiance John Mason and authorities that she during her jog had been abducted by a couple, a man and a woman came up behind her, cut her hair, put her in a car and drove her to Albuquerque, New Mexico and she was able to escape, get away from them. Apparently they chose to willingly let her go. She found a payphone in the area -- in Solano and Central in Albuquerque and was able to make a collect call to her fiance and let him know that she was okay.
John Mason, we spoke with him earlier and he was absolutely thrilled. He plans to go to Albuquerque later this morning to pick up his fiance along with her parents and his parents. Right now she is being interviewed there in Albuquerque by the FBI, state authorities, getting the medical attention that she needs. Part of her medical attention will include a physical exam based on some of the comments that she told to police there, she may or may not have been sexually assaulted and they will certainly be looking into that. But we do know, can tell you the good news is that Jennifer Wilbanks, 32 years old, missing bride to be is safe and will be returning to Georgia.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
KAYE: And welcome back once again to our breaking news here on CNN. I am Randi Kaye here at the CNN center in Atlanta. Want to bring you up to date as quickly as we can here. Just about three and a half hours ago, family prayers answered. Jennifer Wilbanks, the Georgia woman missing since Tuesday night is alive and well. Certainly very good news. We have been talking with folks at the home of John Mason, her fiance. We have been talking with them all morning since about 1:30 or 1:40 a.m. when Jennifer Wilbanks called her fiance John Mason collect from Albuquerque to let him know and let the family know that she is alive and safe.
Many of the family members sharing their joy with us today and certainly is reason to celebrate. The couple was expected to get married about 6:30 this evening. When the search was called off for her the wedding ceremony was turned into a prayer vigil, also scheduled for 6:30 at the time that the wedding would have taken place, but instead, that has all been canceled. Instead, the family will be heading to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to pick up Jennifer Wilbanks.
We understand from authorities who we spoke to earlier that she had been abducted by a couple while she was out for a jog.
And we want to share some of the sound from early this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
AHRENSFIELD: She is here. She is with police. She is -- there doesn't appear to be any life threatening injuries. We are going to get her medical attention and we will be talking to her in the next couple of hours.
QUESTION: What was the circumstance that you all came to find her, have her in the back of a police car?
AHRENSFIELD: My understanding is that this female called her family, called the police there and then through that we were dispatched. Basically they connected the police there to the police here and we then received the call. And that's when we found her at Solano and Central.
QUESTION: Just, APD got a call saying please go to Solano and Central and pick up this woman?
AHRENSFIELD: Yes. In reference to a possible kidnapping victim.
QUESTION: And who responded to this? The beat sergeant or the beat officer? AHRENSFIELD: The sergeant, I believe a couple of beat officers and good police work led them to possibly have a link to a possible connection with the female from Georgia. And so they called their sergeant and that is where we are right now. And, again, more importantly, she is safe and with us.
QUESTION: What made you guys think that there was this connection between this (INAUDIBLE)? Was it something that she said that tipped you guys off?
AHRENSFIELD: Yes, I believe she made several comments that -- and not only that, things have been plastered all over the news about a female from Georgia. And I guess the officer, I believe, even almost recognized her.
So at this time we have not confirmed that, but it's a very high possibility that we believe that this is her and she is safe.
QUESTION: And you mentioned you had actually gotten to talk to the sergeant.
What was his reaction? What was -- what were the officers' bead on the whole situation? That's got to be...
AHRENSFIELD: Just, I think they're amazed the fact that we've -- that if, in fact, this is her, that she is here and she is alive and not injured. And it appears at this time, again, like no life threatening injuries. So we are very glad that she is safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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