- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

DULUTH, Ga. (AP) — The jilted groom whose bride-to-be ran away four days before their wedding still wants to marry Jennifer Wilbanks, saying, “Haven’t we all made mistakes?”

“Just because we haven’t walked down the aisle, just because we haven’t stood in front of 500 people and said our ‘I Do’s, my commitment before God to her was the day I bought that ring and put it on her finger, and I’m not backing down from that,” John Mason said yesterday.

The interview with Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” program was Mr. Mason’s first public statement since he learned on the morning of his scheduled wedding day that his fiancee had not been abducted, as was initially feared.

At a press conference last night, Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher provided a chronology for Miss Wilbanks’ disappearance. He said she bought a Greyhound bus ticket to Austin, Texas, a week before running away April 26. That day, she had a taxi pick her up at the local library and take her to the bus terminal in Atlanta.

She never made it to Austin, instead getting off in Dallas and buying a ticket to Las Vegas. She spent some time in Las Vegas, mostly hanging out at the bus station, before going to Albuquerque, N.M., authorities said.

It was in Albuquerque that she called Mr. Mason and police from a pay phone at a 7-Eleven, saying she had been kidnapped. She later said it simply was a case of having jitters ahead of the lavish, 600-guest wedding planned for Saturday.

Mr. Mason said he has given the 32-year-old Miss Wilbanks her ring back — she had left it at the house — and said they still planned to marry. Miss Wilbanks was wearing the ring during questioning yesterday, authorities said.

“Some things need to happen first, and we need to talk about a few things and … she needs some treatment, for lack of a better word,” he said.

Mr. Mason and his fiancee’s father, Harris Wilbanks, who also appeared on the show, said Miss Wilbanks is working on releasing a written statement.

“She just needs some space and some time,” Mr. Mason said. “She just wants the whole world to know she’s very, very sorry.”

But even if Mr. Mason and the family are ready to forgive the jittery fiancee, authorities are still peeved.

Mayor Shirley Lasseter said yesterday she is looking into the possibility of suing Miss Wilbanks for the estimated $40,000 to $60,000 cost of searching for her — an option that would need City Council approval.

“We feel a tad betrayed, and some are very hurt about it,” she said.

A local prosecutor said yesterday he will conduct a thorough investigation, which could take weeks, before deciding whether to charge Miss Wilbanks for falsely claiming she had been kidnapped.

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