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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL
Aired April 30, 2005 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
CAROL LIN, CNN ANCHOR: This is a special edition of CNN LIVE SATURDAY NIGHT, Runaway Bride, a relieved family, a confused fiance and one woman whose twisted story is the talk of the nation.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JENNIFER WILBANKS, FAKED HER OWN ABDUCTION: I don't know where I am. I'm right here at the 7-11.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIN: The 911 call and the elaborate story Wilbanks cooked up. The rest of the call and the details on how her story started to unravel while in her home town, sighs of relief mixed with cries of betrayal, all coming up on this special edition of CNN SATURDAY NIGHT.
Good evening, I am Carol Lin at the CNN headquarters in Atlanta. This was supposed to be Jennifer Wilbanks' wedding night. Instead, she found herself dashing through the Albuquerque airport, escorted by police, her head covered. Now she is on a plane back home to Georgia, facing the family she worried and lied to and the reality that she is known across America as a runaway bride.
In the next hour we are going to tell Jennifer Wilbanks' story as it unfolded today when police and her loved ones learned that she is alive and well but had apparently faked her own kidnapping rather than walk down the aisle.
CNN's Peter Viles is on the airplane carrying Jennifer Wilbanks here to Atlanta. He filed this report before leaving Albuquerque.
PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): An absolutely bizarre scene here at the airport in Albuquerque. Jennifer Wilbanks arriving with a police escort. She had for most of the time here at the airport a blanket over her head so we never heard her. A couple times I could hear her whispering as I was walking beside her. This is the end, the bizarre end of her fourth day on the road. Three of those days pretty much spent in Greyhound buses or Greyhound bus stations, got here to Albuquerque not even 24 hours ago when she finally decided to make a phone call. On that phone call she told a story we now know is not true.
One of the really strange things about this scene here, you've got all this media following Jennifer to the flight. When she gets to the flight, no family members there to meet her. Presumably there was some family members on the plane, there would be some sort of reunion on the plane but she made this walk just accompanied by law enforcement. A pretty big group of law enforcement keeping cameras at their distance. We did shout some questions to him but we never heard her voice, all we heard occasionally was these law enforcement officers whispering her, trying to comfort her. We never saw her face either. She was covered with that blanket the whole time she was inside the airport on the way to this flight back to Atlanta.
LIN: And we're going to get Peter Viles on the phone as soon as we can to get a sense of what Jennifer Wilbanks is doing and how she is doing on that difficult plane ride home.
Meantime, we want to give you some background. Jennifer Wilbanks had been missing for more than three days, had fled from Georgia to Las Vegas, to New Mexico, when she dialed 911 in Albuquerque last night sobbing and sounding hysterical.
Here is a portion of that call.
911: Albuquerque 911 operator. What is your emergency?
J. WILBANKS: I'm at the - I don't know where I am. I'm right here at Solano St. at the 7-11.
911: OK, what's going on?
J. WILBANKS: I've got my family and the police on the phone. I was kidnapped earlier this week and I'm here now.
911: What is your name, ma'am?
J. WILBANKS: Jennifer.
911: Were you hurt Jennifer? Do you need any medical attention?
J. WILBANKS: No. I don't need any medical attention.
911: Do you know who did this to you?
J. WILBANKS: No.
911: And did they just drop you off at that location.
J. WILBANKS: No. At some street. I mean, I don't know, I don't even know where I am. And I just walked in here.
911: Did he hurt you in any way, Jennifer? Do you need medical attention?
J. WILBANKS: No they didn't hurt me.
911: What happened?
J. WILBANKS: I was kidnapped from Atlanta, Georgia. I don't know. My parents said it's been on the news. I don't know. (INAUDIBLE)
911: OK, who did this to you?
J. WILBANKS: I don't know.
911: Did they just drop you off right now?
J. WILBANKS: No. I don't even how long ago it was. They didn't drop me off here, away from here. (INAUDIBLE). I don't know where I am.
911: OK. And the person that did this to you, was it a he or a she?
J. WILBANKS: It was a Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman.
LIN: Well, Jennifer Wilbanks went on to provide more detail about her fictional kidnappers, describing their appearance and the clothes they wore and the van they drove. Now, within hours of making that 911 call, Wilbanks' elaborate tale started to crumble. Police say she confessed the truth that anxiety about her gala wedding had driven her to run and try to cover her tracks.
CNN's John Zarrella takes us through the hours of uncertainty and then relief and then astonishment.
JOHN ZARRELLA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A case that seemed to be leading nowhere, suddenly cracked wide open. About 1:40 a.m., Wilbanks places a collect call from a payphone outside this convenience store in Albuquerque, New Mexico. More than 1,200 miles away in Duluth, Georgia, Wilbanks' fiance is in tears at the sound of her voice on the line. John Mason keeps Wilbanks on the phone long enough for police to trace the call, but he tells reporters that she gave him no details about what happened to her.
JOHN MASON, WILBANKS' FIANCE: I was crying. I was laughing. I was trying to stay calm to talk to her to keep her calm. It's just so much.
ZARRELLA: Minutes later, Albuquerque police arrive at the scene to find a shaken bride-to-be. She said she is cold and afraid. There is a lot police still don't know.
TRISH AHRENSFELD, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: All that is still being investigated so at this time, she is here. She is with police. She is, doesn't appear to be in any life threatening injuries.
ZARRELLA: Back in Georgia, a celebration is under way at the home of John Mason, an endless stream of Wilbanks' family and friends, including members of the bridal party, thrilled she is safe, but there is another twist to Wilbanks' story. Back in New Mexico, Wilbanks is taken to police headquarters and questioned by the FBI.
She goes into detail with police about how she was abducted, taken in Georgia, she said, by an Hispanic man and a white woman. She even described the vehicle she said she was taken in, a blue van. She told police that her abductors had cut her hair. Authorities say it did look like her hair had been cut, but as police continued to question her, her story changed, dramatically.
CHIEF RAY SCHULTZ, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: At approximately 4 a.m. this morning, Ms. Wilbanks informed agents and detectives that she had not been abducted as she had originally claimed. Agents and detectives learned that Ms. Wilbanks had become scared and concerned about her pending marriage, and decided that she needed some time alone.
ZARRELLA: The news hits home, where friends and family have been on a roller coaster of emotion. Now, trying to understand what really happened to Wilbanks, and what could have caused her to run.
MELINDA LARSON, FRIEND OF JOHN MASON: Well, anyone that's planning a wedding knows that it's stressful, there's drama, it's challenging, it's overwhelming. There's so much pressure involved that 95 percent falls on the bride, so the fact that there's stress and concern regarding the pressures involved with the wedding is of no surprise to anyone that has ever planned a wedding.
ZARRELLA: The man who was due to marry the couple Saturday night said there really is no way to describe what the groom-to-be, questioned himself earlier this week by police, has been through.
REV. ALAN JONES, PEACHTREE BAPTIST CHURCH: John Mason is experiencing something right now that probably nobody in this country has experienced in such a great way, with the media attention and the things that have been brought forth.
ZARRELLA: Family members flew to Albuquerque to bring Wilbanks home alive, but with many questions left to be answered. John Zarrella, CNN, Atlanta.
LIN: Well, consider this. More than 100 police officers and several hundred volunteers searched long and hard for Jennifer Wilbanks. Of course, all the time fearing the worst and now they are dealing with the fact that she is alive but they were duped. CNN's Denise Belgrave in Duluth, Georgia right now. Denise, this small community must be rocked to its core with the news.
DENISE BELGRAVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Carol. They have been through such an incredible series of highs and lows. One person here described it as emotional whiplash.
(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BELGRAVE (voice-over): An audible sigh of relief from a grateful community when they learned that missing bride-to-be Jennifer Wilbanks was alive. But that relief quickly turned to confusion and then to shock. Just minutes before the latest twist in this complicated story unfolded, Jennifer's best friend talked about how she felt when she first heard the news of Jennifer's disappearance.
JENNIFER INGRAM, JENNIFER WILBANKS' FRIEND: I thought the worst. I wanted to say, you don't think she just sort of took a breather, do you. And Dave (ph) is like, I don't think so.
BELGRAVE: But confusion and disbelief moments later as news of Wilbanks' real story, that her abduction was a hoax, rippled through the crowd of family and friends gathered in front of her home.
And then the formal announcement that left everyone stunned.
CHIEF RANDY BELCHER, DULUTH, GEORGIA POLICE: Originally it appeared that she had been kidnapped. But after talking to the FBI it turns out that Ms. Wilbanks basically felt the pressure of this large wedding and could not handle it so therefore she got on a Greyhound bus and she went to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
BELGRAVE: But in this close-knit Georgia community, there was little sympathy for Jennifer Wilbanks, like more than 150 others, Erik Richards, who owns an automobile repair shop in Duluth, went out to look for Wilbanks.
ERIK RICHARDS, DULUTH, GEORGIA RESIDENT: I think they feel betrayed and they feel sorry. They feel sorry that when you're talking 14 bridesmaids and everything, you can't go to one person and say, hey, I just can't do this or this is overwhelming, I need to scale it back or something like that. That you have to run from it.
BELGRAVE: At Linda's Restaurant, a small breakfast place in the heart of Duluth, there was frustration.
SANDY HALL, DULUTH RESIDENT: I can understand getting concerned about getting married and having second thoughts, possibly, and being scared, but to lead everyone to believe that something terrible has happened to you and the things that her family had to be going through thinking the worst had happened to her, I am very angry with her for doing that to her family and to the city of Duluth.
BELGRAVE: Waitress Francis Ladner says she's also angry and she doesn't understand why anyone would do this.
FRANCIS LADNER, DULUTH RESIDENT: As far as just not wanting to get married and scaring everybody in the town half to death that knows something bad can also happen to them? I'm locking my doors and I don't want my kids playing outside. I mean, it's terrible.
BELGRAVE: Reverend Alan Jones, the pastor who was to have married the couple today, said Jennifer deserved forgiveness and understanding but it'll take some time before this community is able to heal the wounds left by Jennifer Wilbanks' disappearance. Denise Belgrave, CNN, Duluth, Georgia.
BELGRAVE: Carol, despite the anger and the disappointment that a lot of people here feel, everybody agrees that they are really happy that Jennifer Wilbanks is coming home in one piece.
LIN: You bet. That is definitely good news indeed. All right. Thanks very much. Denise Belgrave reporting live in Duluth.
Now of all the people who know and love Jennifer Wilbanks, the man she was going to marry may be hurting the most. John Mason has not spoken publicly since learning what really happened to his would- be bride was not perhaps what he thought had happened but his father briefly talked to reporters. Tonight, Claude Mason said his son is doing just fine and the reverend who has been counseling John Mason says the jilted fiance feels no hostility towards Jessica Wilbanks and is talking of forgiveness.
Well, her story will be dissected by real psychologists and armchair analysts for some time you can bet. Coming up, we're going to try to understand what she might have been thinking as she set out on a journey that led to so much anguish and embarrassment.
Plus, this love story gone wrong is stranger than fiction, but brides run away more often than you might think. We're going to talk about that with the therapist about the phenomenon.
And after all the searching, all the time and money spent, should Jennifer Wilbanks pay a price? A lawyer offers his verdict, straight ahead.
LIN: Well, it's the question everyone is asking but only one person can answer and maybe not even her. It's "Why?" Why would a woman with the world at her feet turn her own world and that of her family, friends and community upside down over wedding jitters? CNN national correspondent Gary Tuchman asked around Duluth Georgia. I'm wondering, Gary, if you found any answers.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Carol, Jennifer Wilbanks is not the first person to get cold feet before a wedding but there are certainly more practical remedies to the problem, but Wilbanks has apparently done over a four day period is put her parents into a panic, create a search that cost a lot of money and then lied about why she ended up in New Mexico.
She basically said, you heard on that 911 call, she blamed, quote, an Hispanic man and a Caucasian woman. Now blaming other ethnic and racial groups for your problems usually doesn't go over very well and it hasn't gone over well here in the town of Duluth, Georgia. This is the hometown of her groom to be John Mason. As a matter of fact, at this very moment they were supposed to be getting married.
TUCHMAN (voice-over): More than 600 people were supposed to be in this church for the wedding of Jennifer Wilbanks and John Mason. Instead it is empty. Why it all came to this is the question being asked all over the small town of Duluth, Georgia.
CHERYL HENNING, DULUTH NATIVE: Everything that I have heard from different sources would lead you to believe that she was very excited and very happy and it was very out of character.
TUCHMAN: Cheryl Henning owns the Duluth Flower Shop. She is providing the flowers for a different wedding. The canceled wedding was getting flowers from a florist in Jennifer Wilbanks' hometown to the north. Many here in Duluth did not know Wilbanks but virtually everybody knows the jilted groom, who comes from a prominent medical family.
HENNING: John's grandfather delivered me in the hospital here in Duluth.
TUCHMAN: Charlotte Vanderford works at the Duluth Flower Shop, too.
CHARLOTTE VANDERFORD, DULUTH NATIVE: He delivered myself, my sisters, my brother and my two daughters. Not many people can do that. Can say that the same doctor that delivered them delivered their children.
TUCHMAN: So with the good reputation of the Mason family, there was anger here about the speculation by some that maybe John Mason had something to do with the disappearance.
HENNING: I thought they were totally off-base. It just didn't seem to fit.
HENNING: Well, he's a very - he's always been a very nice guy as far as I know.
TUCHMAN: So why did Jennifer Wilbanks do what she did? Family members are not saying if they know but are hinting they might.
MIKE SATTERFIELD, WILBANKS' UNCLE: It has been determined that Jennifer has some issues the family was not aware of. We're looking forward to loving her and talking with her concerning these issues.
TUCHMAN: Now the police chief here in Duluth says no criminal charges will be filed, but that's a very interesting comment because it's not up to the police chief, it's up to the district attorney of this county, which is Gwinnett County and we talked to that district attorney and he tells us right now it's a time to celebrate but it's something they will consider in the days to come. He's not saying he will. He's not saying he won't. He is saying he will consider it. Suffice it to say at the very least they will not be happy that she lied to authorities in New Mexico.
One other aside, Carol, we want to tell you, our viewers might be familiar with the town of Duluth, Georgia and might wonder why, and that's because just a month ago Duluth was also in the national spotlight. This is the home of Ashleigh Smith, the woman who was held hostage by Brian Nichols, the alleged courthouse shooter, who got him to turn himself in. Carol?
LIN: Good heavens. Notoriety beyond the pale in 2005 in that little town. Thanks, Gary.
OK. That leads us to our last call question. Do you think Jennifer Wilbanks' fiance should give her a second chance? Tell us what you think. Give us a call at 1-800-807-2620. Weigh in on this big story.
And we can only begin to imagine what Jennifer Wilbanks was thinking when she fled Georgia. Her fiance and all the trappings of a huge and elaborate wedding. Coming up, a marriage therapist takes on runaway brides and how this one may be different.
LIN: Jennifer Wilbanks certainly isn't the first woman to get so nervous about her wedding day that she at least wants to run away but most of us, at least, can't imagine feeling so desperate that we lead people we love to believe we've been kidnapped. So let's talk about what might have been going through Jennifer Wilbanks' mind with the author of the truth about love. Marriage and family therapist Pat Love. Yes, that is her real name. Pat. Or Dr. Love, I should say, what do you think went wrong? By all accounts, this was a woman in love and ready to be married.
PAT LOVE, THERAPIST: And that could easily be true, Carol, it's just if you hear about the details of this wedding it makes me exhausted, when you think about eight showers and 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen and all the parties and 600 people coming and all of these people to please. It's overwhelming but we can understand the overwhelmed feelings. We can understand the fear. Maybe even the running away, but to go over the age, to fake your own abduction, that really is a serious issue.
LIN: Well, maybe not the kidnapping part, but how common is it for women to leave their man at the altar?
LOVE: You know, really, the statistics are unclear but here is what we do know, that couples who attend marriage preparation, not wedding preparation. You know, if wedding made you happy I would have been a cake decorator. But the point is, couples who attend marriage preparation, 10% solidly agree they are not going to be married, that marriage is not for them.
LIN: But she was going to premarital counseling. In fact, just two nights before she disappeared, they were at a session at their church.
LOVE: Exactly, but remember that we're talking about education, we're not talking about counseling necessarily.
LIN: What do people need to know, then?
LOVE: They need to know, number one, who I am, who my partner is and what marriage is, what it means to be joining in union, to be legally bonded ...
LIN: And the answer to those questions?
LOVE: And the answer to those questions is that marriage goes up and down, marriage has highs and lows, marriage is a commitment you make to the relationship, not just to feeling good or feeling in love or loving the other person. It's a very different paradigm. And we now have research that shows us what makes marriages work and what doesn't and the classes are often free and reasonable, and again, this could have been prevented.
LIN: All right. So here she is on an airplane. She is about the land in Atlanta, be reunited with her family and fiance. Let's talk about that conversation with the fiance. How does that go at this point.
LOVE: Well, hopefully, it'll be honest. Hopefully, he'll see the vulnerability. They'll be a gross apology. They'll be true remorse. Remorse will be the key, by the way. Remorse is a very, very uncomfortable feeling but it is corrective. When I really get it, how I hurt people, how I hurt people I don't even know, how not only the parents and the families and the people who were attending but just the individuals in her home town and ...
LIN: The fiance had to take a lie detector test, Dr. Love.
LIN: There was media, national media questioning why hasn't he taken it yet? Has he hired an attorney ...
LIN: Everyone was seeing Scott Peterson all over again.
LOVE: Absolutely. And also it demeans people who really have had loved ones abducted so talk about remorse, talk about reparation. The only corrective experience will be does she really get it? What - the consequence of her actions.
LIN: And what's the lesson in it for him? Do you think that he should give her a second chance?
LOVE: You know, that's a hard call. We know that there are forgivable sins in marriage, we know that ...
LIN: Faking your own kidnapping, setting your future husband up as a potential suspect.
LOVE: Absolutely. You'd be surprised how far love can go when it's not stretched to the point of hysteria. There are forgivable actions in marriage. We all have had to do that. But it is understanding when to say no, when to put a stop, when to say, I'm on overload and again, it's all about preparing for being together, not just a party.
LIN: Got you. All right. An understatement indeed tonight. Dr. Pat Love. Thank you very much.
Four days, blanket coverage. You're pretty familiar with Jennifer Wilbanks, the former missing person story. So when we come back, Jennifer Wilbanks, the friend and sister and health care worker and a runner of long distances.
And don't forget our last call question. We want you to weigh in. Do you think Jennifer Wilbanks' fiance, John Mason, should give her a second chance? Tell us what you think. Give us a call at 1- 800-807-2620.
LIN: The end of Jennifer Wilbanks' odyssey was announced by police in Albuquerque, New Mexico. And so far, the only post- disappearance, post-investigation, post-hoax public statement Jennifer Wilbanks has made has been through Albuquerque police.
So, earlier I spoke with Albuquerque police spokesperson, Trish Ahrensfield, whom you saw in that video, standing there to -- well, screen left, next to Jennifer Wilbanks with a blanket over her head. She was escorting the camera shy bride-to-be onto a flight to Atlanta. And I asked her whether Jennifer Wilbanks expressed any remorse today for all the trouble she had caused.
TRISH AHRENSFIELD, ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. POLICE: Actually, I have a statement from her, recently that I just received and basically what she said was that she respects the fact that the public deserves a statement. She is requesting that we honor her request to speak to her family and fiance first. And that she appreciates the outpouring prayers and concern that she has recently become aware of. And I take that as the fact that she has not known that this has been so much public -- publicity about this event.
LIN: Do you think she's embarrassed?
AHRENSFIELD: I can't speak for her, but I'm sure she's going through a lot of emotions. I'm sure she -- again, she really wants to speak to her family first and she has stated that she would like to then give a more formal statement when she returns home.
LIN: All right. At what point Officer Ahrensfield was it pretty clear that Jennifer Wilbanks was not a kidnapping victim?
AHRENSFIELD: It was clear to the detectives at some point during the interview they even stated that she had more things to tell and at that point she, herself, decided to also tell the truth. LIN: Could you be more specific?
AHRENSFIELD: I think it goes back to the expertise of the detective. Knowing which kind of questions to ask, knowing when to ask more questions; at one point the detective stated can we stop looking for the blue van? She said, yes. That is a big indicator that there was no van. So that was a big clue.
And then she also stated that with the stress of everything and her own statements were the stress of the wedding and all the planning that she needed some time.
LIN: How long did this questioning go on for?
AHRENSFIELD: We received the call about 11:40 p.m., last evening. And by the time she got to the substation, and when the FBI detectives as well as our own detectives, were actually at the substation with her. I would say between about 1:30 in the morning and a little bit before 4 a.m. was when we had a good indication that she had not been abducted.
LIN: Pretty much through the night, then? Do you have any idea why she was in Albuquerque?
AHRENSFIELD: We don't have any idea. We know that she took a bus from Las Vegas, Nevada; and then another bus to Albuquerque. And as far as what time she arrived, I don't know that. But I know we believe she was on foot at some point. And then took herself to Solano and Central, where that 911 call came in.
LIN: Did she seem disoriented at all?
AHRENSFIELD: You know I've listened to the 911 tape and I know that she stated that she didn't know where she was. When I had contact with her, she looked tired, she looked upset, she looked stressed out. And so at that point, again, as the outcome of the interview was that she had not been abducted. Whether she had arrangements already made to come to Albuquerque it is still very unclear.
LIN: Do you or any of the investigators think that there is anymore to this story than simply a woman had regrets about her wedding?
AHRENSFIELD: The information that we have, no. We don't have that information, that there is anything more than what she finally told the truth to us about.
LIN: So no one else involved?
AHRENSFIELD: No, not that we believe. We don't think she was with any other family members when she was on the bus. It is a possibility that she met some people, maybe between Vegas and Albuquerque, as far as just meeting them on the bus that she was. But we don't believe that anyone else had anything to do with why she came here. (END VIDEOTAPE)
LIN: Jennifer Wilbanks, on a flight right now, from Albuquerque to Atlanta. We have a correspondent on that flight and you'll hear from him as soon as we can get him.
In the meantime, to the people who never heard of Jennifer Wilbanks until she disappeared. Well, she was a dark-haired, bright- eyed, bride-to-be. Well, tonight we do know more even than Wilbanks' closest friends or relatives ever suspected. They know a vivacious woman from a deep-rooted family, who seemed eager to put down roots of her own.
LIN (voice over): Days ago, fearing the worst, Jennifer Wilbanks' family and friends worried that her kindness could have put her in danger. Their fear, a testimony to a woman they say never knew a stranger.
MIKE SATTERFIELD, WILBANKS UNCLE: Very happy and very festive about what all was going on. And, I mean, that was the mood. And she was Jennifer. She was a smile from ear-to-ear. If you see a picture with Jennifer smiling, that is not a pose. That is her natural personality.
LIN: Wilbanks is from Gainesville, the self-proclaimed hospitality capital of the world. About an hour's drive north of Atlanta. Population, 25,000. A close-knit community that came together over Jennifer's disappearance.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We had church groups, the merchants downtown opened up their hearts and stores. They gave free food. I mean, people stood around all day handing out flyers.
LIN: She and her brother, Matthew, were raised by parents and step-parents. All active Baptist Church communities. Both churches held vigils for the missing woman this week. Saturday they thanked God for hearing their prayers.
MATTHEW WILBANKS, JENNIFER'S BROTHER: When I went to bed last night, and I was saying my prayers, and I said, "Lord, I don't know what the end result of this is going to be." But I said, "If there is nothing else this has restored my faith in my fellow man, because of the outpouring has been absolutely amazing. I mean it has been unbelievable.
LIN: Wilbanks' mother was the long-time owner of a sporting goods store that was a fixture in Gainesville. Her brother Matthew works at another sporting goods store. Wilbanks, herself, worked for years in the maternity ward at a Gainesville hospital. She is currently a medical assistant. She is also an athlete who loves to run.
Wilbanks' love of running lead her to the love of her life, as her intended father-in-law explained on the "NANCY GRACE SHOW". UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There was a friend of my wife, who is Jennifer's aunt. And she said, her and my wife talking one day about Johnny is running the Chicago marathon. And she says Oh, I've got a niece that runs a marathon. They might have something in common.
And my wife says, don't do it. Don't do it. I don't want you to play matchmaker, but she did anyway and they hit it off immediately. And this turned in to a blossoming romance.
LIN: Now 32, Wilbanks had recently moved to her fiance's hometown, Duluth. Where his family was as deeply rooted as her own in Gainesville. In fact, his father is the former mayor. She joined a running club and was making new friends. The Mason's were impressed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is -- we've known her, I guess, for about 20 months now. She is a very outgoing girl. She's very vivacious. I think she was truly in love with our son from all indications.
LIN: But is was Wilbanks' reputation as a resilient athlete that made this close friend doubt rumors earlier this week that Jennifer had been abducted.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It makes you think, well, gosh is it someone that she knows. Because I just think there would be more of a sign of a fight. I mean, if you know Jennifer, she wouldn't go down that easy.
LIN: As her homecoming unfolds, now friends are wondering, is the woman returning the same woman who left.
LIN: Well, Jennifer Wilbanks' family says that she does have issues. And they don't mean legal, but prosecutors indicate that she may have something to answer for in court. So we're going to take a look at that possible scenario. Will she be charged in this case, in our special report, RUNAWAY BRIDE.
LIN: Police in New Mexico and Georgia say they don't plan to file criminal charges against run away bride, Jennifer Wilbanks. But the Gwinnett County, Georgia prosecutor has not ruled anything out. So did she commit a crime?
Let's talk to lawyer and law professor Avery Friedman.
Avery, what do you think? Do you think she's a criminal?
AVERY FRIEDMAN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Well, I don't know that she's a criminal Carol, but the problem here is that she made misrepresentations to both state and federal officials. Now, most state statues do not provide for criminal penalties, as a general rule. However, because she made misstatements, lied, frankly, to special agents of the FBI, that is a crime. So the question remains, will Gwinnett County in Georgia, make a decision on prosecuting her. And also, will they United States attorney in Atlanta make a decision.
LIN: So what would the charges be?
FRIEDMAN: Well, with respect to federal, when you lie to a federal agent that is a felony under certain circumstances, so she maybe facing that. Because, again, she lied essentially to special agents of the FBI. I am unaware of whether or not Georgia has a similar statue. So the when the Gwinnett County prosecutor, district attorney says, look, we are going to look at this more closely. That doesn't mean necessarily that she is going to be charged.
But this is pretty serious stuff. Because remember, Carol, among other things you had roughly 1,000 law enforcement officers out combing for her, trying to find her, based on these misrepresentations. Very, very serious.
LIN: What about civil liability? I mean, this was an expensive operation?
FRIEDMAN: Well, that's right. And indeed there may very well be claims, because government has expended money to undertake a very comprehensive investigation which undoubtedly cost Gwinnett County and as New Mexico, thousands and thousands of dollars. So there may very well be civil liability, which Jennifer is going to be responsible for. Whether or not it is pursued, we don't know.
FRIEDMAN: But certainly she is responsible.
LIN: Well, I want to talk about it in just a second, but let's talk about what the ultimate penalty would be. I mean, how much time -- if they go after her on lying to federal authorities. How much potential time behind bars? What's the penalty for something like that?
FRIEDMAN: Well, under federal law this is a felony. Depending on the nature of what she is charged, she could be facing up to several years, depending on her behavior. But remember, about six months ago the U.S. Supreme Court found unconstitutional sentencing guidelines. Which means that a federal district judge, if she is charged, and if she is convicted, has complete discretion on deciding what the penalty is going to be.
LIN: OK, what about civil liability? Dollars and cents?
FRIEDMAN: Well, I think that is a significant issue. Because especially Gwinnett County, which really is going to get stuck with a significant bill with overtime and other law enforcement expense, may indeed make her accountable. And that could be thousands of dollars.
I wouldn't be surprised, Carol, to see that county officials and city officials think about making her responsible for this.
LIN: OK, now. Let's talk about reality. I mean, come on! This is a woman who was so distraught! FRIEDMAN: Yes.
LIN: Loved by virtually everyone, anybody talked about. I mean, her live dissected for the last four days.
LIN: I mean, she's clearly troubled and heartbroken. And her family is just heartsick over this. Prosecutors aren't going to go after this family, are they?
FRIEDMAN: Well, let me tell you something. There is something a little bit sinister about this. You know, when these sort of things happen -- and usually they blame the black guy. This time they blame the Hispanic guy. I mean, there is something really...
LIN: Ah, there was a Caucasian woman in the lie, too!
FRIEDMAN: Oh, OK. All right. But the point is, this isn't something accidental. This was something carefully thought out. And while I want to give her the benefit of the doubt, and totally respect the idea that she is a wonderful young lady and that she is under this stress.
The fact is, what the law does, Carol -- and this is an important point -- it balances accountability on one hand, with compassion and humanity on the other. So what the authorities have to do is take that balance into consideration. Again, may be a very fine young woman, but does she walk away Scott free? I really wonder.
LIN: All right. Well, we will find out soon. Avery Friedman, thank you.
FRIEDMAN: Nice to be with you, Carol.
LIN: And to have you.
All right. It started as a mystery and ended as a hoax. Four days and 14,000 miles later. Still ahead, start to finish in the Wilbanks saga, assuming the saga is actually finished.
LIN: Well, right about now we estimate that Jennifer Wilbanks and John Mason would have been just completing their vows. The were to have been married in this very hour. Except that the woman disappeared and it turns out that she fabricated this whole story of being kidnapped because she just couldn't bear the pressure of this huge wedding; 600 guests, 14 bridesmaids, and grooms people and the minister who was going to marry them.
I mean, can you imagine the shock of this family? Well, frankly, he was pretty candid when he talked with reporters tonight about what was going on and what was going through his mind.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REV. ALAN JONES, PEACHTREE CORNERS BAPTIST CHURCH: No, I don't even have any thoughts on it. Everybody is disappointed. We're shocked. We love Jennifer. We want to help her. We want her to get help. You know the family, everybody else searched and agonized and went through emotions just like the volunteers that came. You know, it is unfortunate for the whole city.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (INAUDIBLE) family feels a sense of betrayal?
JONES: Well, we feel betrayed. But nobody has talked to Jennifer. We don't know, you know, we don't know what she was feeling. What kind of emotions she has. And I'm just amazed at the response of John Mason. He's calm. He's peaceful. And he wants to see her. He wants to talk to her.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do they want to get back together?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LIN: To fully appreciate what the minister who was planning on marrying Jennifer Wilbanks and John Mason, and the families are going through right now, take a look at all that they have been through just in the past few days.
JOHN MASON, WILBANKS' FIANCE: It if is cold feet, she left her car, her money, her phone, her keys, her diamond ring. Something has happened and I don't know what.
MAJ. DON WOODDRUFF, DULUTH, GA., POLICE: Based on the fact that according to the family members this is totally uncharacteristic of her behavior, and such being the case, we would have to classify it as a criminal investigation at this time.
SARA DORSEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): The Wilbanks family has declined to speak to the media this morning, however, they did issue a statement saying, in part, quote, "We beg anyone who has any knowledge of the circumstances surrounding Jennifer's disappearance to contact the police.
CHIP RANDY BELCHER, DULUTH GA. POLICE: We probably searched approximately five square miles, with over 250 volunteers, law enforcement and civilian. We were unable to locate much of anything at that point in time.
DORSEY (voice over): Police have confirmed to CNN that a clump of hair was found during the search Wednesday. However, they say the hair has not been linked to Wilbanks and could belong to anyone.
HARRIS WILBANKS, WILBANKS' FATHER: It's been a difficult two days, very difficult. MIKE SATTERFIELD, WILBANKS FAMILY SPOKESMAN: The family has established an initial reward of $100,000. We love Jennifer very much. We would give our life and everything that we own to have her returned.
TONY HARRIS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We also learned at that afternoon press conference with the family that John Mason, Jennifer's fiance had taken and passed a polygraph examination. An hour later we learn from the police chief, here in Duluth, that that privately administered polygraph test meant absolutely nothing to authorities here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At this point we have searched what we can search. We have exhausted out manpower. We've turned over probably every leaf in this city. So I have suspended all future searches as of this moment.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you give us any more detail on how Jennifer Wilbanks was discovered in Albuquerque, New Mexico?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, her abductors let her go. They go scared and let her go and she made it to a pay phone and actually called the home.
JOHN MASON, WILBANKS' FIANCE: Kind of have to keep yourself composed, because she didn't know where she was and she was scared to death. And I had to try to keep her on the phone till we go somebody to her.
OFC. TRISH AHRENSFIELD, ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO: She is here. She is with police. She is -- doesn't appear to be any life threatening injuries.
JOYCE PARRISH, WILBANKS MOTHER: I just felt like -- I even told the FBI this afternoon, I feel like that someone has taken my daughter and that she is not anywhere around here. That you won't find her here. They've taken her somewhere. It was just -- I don't know for moms out there, there is just times that -- with your children, you just feel it in your heart.
CHIEF RAY SCHULTZ, ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. POLICE: At approximately 4 a.m. this morning, Miss Wilbanks informed agents and detectives that she had not been abducted as she had originally claimed.
MIKE SATTERFIELD, WILBANKS FAMILY SPOKESMAN: Jennifer has some issues the family was not aware of; we're looking forward to loving her and talking with her concerning these issues.
LIN: Jennifer Wilbanks on an airplane, right now. We will bring you the latest with our correspondent who is on that flight, as soon as we can get Peter Viles on the telephone. In the meantime, that is all we have time for, this hour. Please join us in our prime-time hour at 10 o'clock Eastern time. But in the meantime we're going to leave you with your responses to our last call question: Do you think Jennifer Wilbanks' fiance should give her a second chance?
We're going to continue that discussion tonight at 10 o'clock, in our prime-time show. So keep the calls coming. Let's hear from you. Good night.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't think he should take her back. It's bad enough leaving someone at the alter, but making them the target of police investigations, target of the national media, that is much worse.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not. He should let go.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, he should. Everybody makes mistakes.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he should take her back. I think that he should maybe forgive her, help her find medical assistance. She obviously can't handle stress.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he should give her a second chance. Every woman and every girl has cold feet.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I respect the fact that she was not able to go through with it, but at some point beforehand, she should have said something. Six hundred people, is 600 people. They don't come today and leave tomorrow, OK?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not. I think that she lied. And if she had a problem she should have went to him and talked to him about it. I think she humiliated him and embarrassed him. I think that he should just carry on and go on without her.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think he should give her a second chance. I think she is selfish and self-centered. All she had to do was tell him that she didn't want to get married. She's a liar and I don't think I'd want to be married to a liar.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't believe he should. I think that she put the whole family through hell and I don't know how I could ever really trust her again.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If she didn't want to marry him she should have just said so. If I were him I'd be really, really hurt bad. And I think I'd start looking for a new girlfriend.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No, I don't believe he should. If she didn't want to get married she could have gone about it in a different manner. But to let the police think that he might have done something to her is just a little beyond forgiveness. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He should absolutely not give her a second chance. He should be so thankful that she did this before they got married and he should have nothing to do with her and she should be prosecuted.
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