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Kidnapped Woman Found, was a Dumb Idiot


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By KRISTEN WYATT, Associated Press Writer 27 minutes ago


DULUTH, Ga. - A prosecutor said Sunday that he wants to review whether the runaway bride-to-be who admitted she made up a kidnapping story should be charged for making false statements to the police.


Jennifer Wilbanks returned to this tight-knit town on Saturday after a cross-country bus trip took her through Las Vegas, Nev., to Albuquerque, N.M., as hundreds of volunteers searched for her.


She initially told authorities she had been abducted while jogging, but eventually admitted her kidnapping story was fabricated and she had run away because she had cold feet for her wedding, which was planned for Saturday.


Police initially said there would be no criminal charges, but Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said Sunday that he was still looking into the matter.


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


Porter said the 32-year-old woman could face 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 of jail time and the felony carries a maximum of 5 years of prison.


The charges potentially would stem from Wilbanks reporting her kidnapping story on the phone to Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher, Porter said, adding that he had no jurisdiction over the woman's 911 call to Albuquerque authorities.


Members of Peachtree Corners Baptist Church, where she was scheduled to be married, said prayers and expressed concern on Sunday for her and her fiance, John Mason.


But some residents of this Atlanta suburb felt betrayed by what turned out to be an elaborate hoax. Volunteers had searched woods and alleys, crawled in sewage drains and stayed up late looking for Wilbanks.


"I'm glad that she's alive and OK, but it was a dirty trick," said Louise McCoy, waiting in line at the Duluth post office Saturday — the same day Wilbanks was supposed to be married in a lavish ceremony that included 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen.


More than 100 officers led a search that involved several hundred volunteers, including many wedding guests and members of the bridal party.


A Wisconsin college student who faked her own abduction last year and turned up curled in a fetal position in a marsh was ordered to repay police at least $9,000 for their search. She pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges of obstructing officers and was given three years' probation.


Wilbanks returned Saturday by plane to Atlanta, where she was picked up in a squad car on the tarmac — with a towel covering her head — to avoid the media.


There were no family members at the airport to greet her, but her stepfather and an uncle had flown to Albuquerque to escort her home, authorities said.


Wilbanks decided to call her fiance and police with the story about the kidnapping when she found herself broke in Albuquerque, according to authorities.


In her 911 call, Wilbanks sounds frantic and confused, telling an operator she was kidnapped from Atlanta by a man and a woman in their 40s who were driving a blue van. Through sobs, she tells the dispatcher they had a small handgun.


At one point, the operator asks if Wilbanks knows what direction her captors went after dropping her off in Albuquerque.


"I have no idea. I don't even know where I am," she says.


Moments after the word came Saturday that Wilbanks fled town and hadn't been kidnapped, most of the police who'd been guarding her house since Tuesday night pulled away. Fliers with Wilbanks' picture were pulled down from local store windows. Some residents removed yellow ribbons they'd put on their mailboxes.


After police reported the hoax, the mood outside Wilbanks' home went from jubilant to somber. Family members ducked inside and the blinds were drawn. They later expressed relief that she was safe.


"Sure, we were all disappointed, maybe a little embarrassed, but you know what, if you remember all the interviews yesterday we were praying, 'At this point let her be a runaway bride,'" said the Rev. Alan Jones, who was to perform the wedding. "So God was faithful. Jennifer's alive and we're all thankful for that."




Associated Press writers Anna Macias Aguayo in Albuquerque, N.M., and Harry R. Weber in Atlanta, contributed to this report.

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