Charges Not Ruled Out for Runaway Bride

  1. source contradicts account of spontaneous cross-country trip

    monday, may 2, 2005 posted: 7:05 pm edt (2305 gmt)

    atlanta, georgia (cnn) -- jennifer wilbanks, the betrothed suburban atlanta woman whose pre-wedding flight spawned a national search, could face misdemeanor or felony charges, a prosecutor said monday.

    gwinnett county district attorney danny porter said he determined that his office could press charges against the 32-year-old medical assistant from duluth, but he did not specify when he would make that decision.

    porter said a misdemeanor charge of making a false police report and the felony charge of making false statements to authorities are under consideration.

    wilbanks' fiance, john mason, 32, told cnn his "only concern now is to get jennifer well." according to the atlanta journal-constitution's web, mason also told a tv interviewer, "hey, we all mess up. we all make mistakes."

    wilbanks, who was scheduled to get married saturday in front of 600 guests and 28 attendants, disappeared last tuesday evening, prompting three days of searching.

    on friday, she called mason from a pay phone in albuquerque, new mexico, and said two people had abducted her. albuquerque police said they will not bring charges.

    porter said earlier that "if she just freaked out and split, i'd be less inclined to hold her criminally responsible than if it were a deceptive plan all along."

    "albuquerque probably made the right decision, given the level of involvement that they had in the case," porter said monday on cnn's "american morning." "but here in gwinnett, we had a huge involvement."

    a source briefed on the status of the investigation said wilbanks had bought her cross-country bus ticket several days before she disappeared, and had made advance arrangements for a ride to the bus station.

    that account clashes with what the fbi said wilbanks told investigators after she surfaced late friday in albuquerque.

    fbi spokesman bill elwell said saturday that she told them she embarked on her trip without a plan, leaving on "the spur of the moment" with $140 to $150.

    the stress of the wedding had gotten to her, and after she went jogging tuesday evening she took a taxi to a greyhound bus station, where she boarded a bus to las vegas, nevada, elwell said.

    wilbanks initially told police in new mexico she had been kidnapped, but after questioning admitted she fled voluntarily because she "needed some time alone" before the wedding, police said.

    "she admitted she did cut her hair on her own," elwell said. "she did not want anyone to recognize her. she had some idea people were looking for her."

    a one-way bus ticket to las vegas from the atlanta area costs about $170 -- more than investigators said she told them she was carrying at the time.

    wilbanks told investigators that after a night in las vegas, she befriended a hispanic man and a white woman, and the three took a bus to albuquerque.

    wilbanks returned to atlanta late saturday, handing a statement for reporters to a flight attendant shortly before landing. (full story)

    duluth residents, including some of the 150 volunteers who had helped search for wilbanks, had a mixed reaction to her return. (more hometown reaction)

    duluth mayor shirley lasseter said monday the cost for the search may have been $100,000. the city clerk was totaling the expenditures and lasseter's office was mulling civil charges.

    "we have our attorney checking into it to see if we can recoup anything," lasseter said on cnn's "american morning."

    "i think when we all do wrong that we must be punished for that in some way," lasseter said.

    "i think for this action there needs to be some type of reaction, and there needs to be some type of retribution that she should feel to give back to the community for what she has put them through for these many days."

    last year, a wisconsin college student who faked her abduction was sentenced to probation and ordered to reimburse police. (full story)

    cnn's charles molineaux, peter viles and rich phillips contributed to this report.

    var clickexpire = "-1";
  2. 8 Comments

  3. by   Marie_LPN, RN
    I think she should get the book thrown at her. She lied, and look at how much time and effort went into looking for her, when this could have been used on someone who was actually IN danger.
  4. by   VivaLasViejas
    I'm with you, Marie.........she should have to at least pay for the time and manpower involved in the search for her. Nobody can tell me that a 32-year-old woman with a college degree (I'm assuming that because the press said she is a nurse) doesn't know what she's doing when she deliberately takes off for parts unknown and leaves hundreds of people, including her parents and her intended husband, fearing the worst. :angryfire
  5. by   Marie_LPN, RN
    From what i've read, she's actually a medical assistant.
  6. by   SharonH, RN
    Quote from Marie_LPN
    From what i've read, she's actually a medical assistant.

    This is settled easily.

    Colleagues from Jennifer Wilbanks' place of employment, Heritage OB-GYN in Gainesville, have been supportive as well, Ann Wilbanks said. She noted that the media have described Jennifer incorrectly as a midwife or a nurse.

    "She was a medical assistant, who kept track of patient charts and things like that. She loved working there," Ann Wilbanks said. "The midwives threw her a bridal shower Sunday, just two days before she disappeared."

    I don't imagine that the MAs want to claim her either.
  7. by   mattsmom81
    She caused financial resources to be wasted (I've heard reports ranging from 40 to 100K) and even made a false police report. IMO she should make restitution.
  8. by   SmilingBluEyes
    I agree with mattsmom. She is a real jerk to put her family and community through this. And the fact she is nurse is such a non-issue. Nurses are a very diverse group; we are sure to have some flakes among us. She needs to make financial restitution for her selfish and poorly-thought act to the community who wasted so much time and resources on her. Personally, if I were her fiance, I would dump her like nuclear waste. Imagine if she pulled a similarly stupid and thoughtless act after they were to be married and have kids. What a cruel thing she did.
  9. by   Blackcat99
    Yes she should definately have to pay for all the money spent looking for her. She should also get busted for lying to the police about the abduction. I know she was going thru a rough period in her life but how could she allow her family and friends to suffer so much. Yes throw the book at her. :angryfire
  10. by   mercyteapot
    I think she might get charged and plead out for a bit of jail time or lots of community service. IMO, keeping the incarceration to a minimum makes sense, since she is highly unlikely to re-offend, her crime wasn't violent, and she'll need to be able to work to pay off an almost certain civil judgment against her. Interestingly, if she hadn't left the lock of hair that she cut off, she might have been clear of the civil judgment, since she could have claimed she had no idea her disappearance would precipitate such a response. There is obviously something seriously wrong with that chick, and I am beginning to wonder about her intended, too, since he claims he still wants to marry her! It is also a bit annoying to me when I hear newscasters claiming that prosecutors are considering charges against her "for getting cold feet". If she had just called off or postponed the wedding, the way normal people do if they decide they can't go through with it, she wouldn't be in any legal trouble.