- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — On what was to be her wedding day, Jennifer Wilbanks wore not a white veil but an orange towel over her head to prevent the press from taking her picture. Instead of being led down the aisle by her father, she was led by police to an airplane that flew the runaway bride home.

Now officials say the 32-year-old woman’s cold feet may have gotten her into hot water. Yesterday, Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter vowed to look into whether she violated the law by reporting a crime that didn’t exist.

Miss Wilbanks initially told authorities she was abducted while jogging, but later disclosed she took a cross-country bus trip to Albuquerque, N.M., to avoid her lavish, 600-guest wedding.

Mr. Porter said Miss Wilbanks faces a misdemeanor charge of false report of a crime or a felony charge of false statements. The misdemeanor carries a penalty of up to a year in jail; five years in prison is the maximum sentence for the felony.

“If there’s criminal responsibility, that’s something I have to do something about,” Mr. Porter said. “I think it’s really going to depend on the circumstances on how this was done.”

Meanwhile yesterday, members of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church prayed and expressed concern for Miss Wilbanks and her fiance, John Mason, who did not attend services.

The Rev. Bob Horner — who was to have performed the couple’s wedding — thanked church members who had helped in the search for Miss Wilbanks and provided support for family members.

“Number one, we are so thankful that Jennifer has been found,” Mr. Horner told the congregation. “Number two, I want to publicly thank all of you who prayed and you who went to Duluth to be with the family.”

An FBI spokesman said Saturday that Miss Wilbanks apparently made a sudden decision to flee her looming wedding and did not realize hundreds of people were looking for her. But he also noted she cut her hair to avoid being recognized.

Mr. Porter said he would speak today with police in Albuquerque, where Miss Wilbanks turned up late Friday and called her fiance and 911 to report that she had been kidnapped.

Despite angry calls from some residents, authorities in Albuquerque said they had no plans to charge Wilbanks, though they haven’t ruled it out.

“We don’t have to charge everybody,” said Albuquerque police spokeswoman Trish Ahrensfield. “We have discretion. We are human beings. We have feelings and we are professional at the same time.”

By all accounts, authorities in Albuquerque befriended the woman, sending her back to Georgia with gifts including a teddy bear she said she planned to name “Al,” for Albuquerque.

“Law enforcement is really making a major move to deal with people in crisis,” Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schulz said yesterday. “Miss Wilbanks was definitely a person in crisis.”

But the Gwinnett County district attorney noted that vast law-enforcement resources were used to look for the missing bride.

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