Jennifer Wilbanks, the bride-to-be from Duluth, Ga., who disappeared Tuesday night has been found alive and well in New Mexico after apparently getting cold feet about her wedding, and falsely claiming to have been kidnapped by a man and woman.
The 32-year-old woman phoned relatives from a convenience store in Albuquerque early this morning, before telling police she had been abducted by a couple.
Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said Wilbanks’ original claims of abduction were false, and that she had become “scared and concerned about her pending marriage and decided she needed some time alone.”
In Duluth, Ga., police chief Randy Belcher confirmed the scenario, saying, “Miss Wilbanks felt the pressure of this large wedding and could not handle it.”
“She is alive and well and that’s what means so much to us,” said Jennifer’s uncle Mike Satterfield. “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.”
“I never ever thought that she left because she had cold feet,” Wilbanks’ mother, Joyce Parrish, originally told CNN, before the true circumstances were revealed. “She and John are crazy about each other. … She told me how many times she loved John.”
Wilbanks was scheduled to be married later today to her fiance, John Mason.
Jennifer Wilbanks and fiance John Mason
“It’s proof positive that God exists and He answers prayers,” Mason first told CNN after speaking with Jennifer on the phone. “That’s all we’ve been doing is praying.”
He later added:
“I was crying, I was laughing, I was trying to stay calm. … When I finally put down the phone, it was like the burden of the world off my shoulders. … Right now I’m just ecstatic. I’m breathless. I’m overjoyed.”
Mason had reported her missing Tuesday evening, when she failed to return home from a jog.
Wilbanks spent much of the overnight talking with police and the FBI about the circumstances of her disappearance, and though she first maintained she had been kidnapped and later released, she finally admitted that she had simply traveled to Las Vegas and then Albuquerque by bus.
Pastor Alan Jones, who was slated to preside at the wedding, told CNN that Wilbanks told him her abductors “came up behind her, cut her hair and put her in a blue van.” She later admitted to authorities the story was a fabrication.
Police say it appears Wilbanks’ hair has been cut by her own hand. Other than being tired and thirsty, she seemed to be in good health.
“It’s shocking, it’s overhwelming, it’s baffling,” Melinda Larson, a friend of both Wilbanks and Mason, told CNN about the twists the case took on the overnight. “Jennifer and John need space, they need time.”
She added the case still has a happier ending than what many had feared.
“Having cold feet is a joy compared to what the alternative may have been,” Larson said.
The wedding itself was slated to be no small affair, with 600 invitations mailed, and 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen planned for the ceremony.
Shortly before Jennifer was found, police in Duluth said they had no solid leads, and began shutting down a search center. Wilbanks’ relatives were offering a $100,000 reward for information and were planning a prayer vigil.
Police in New Mexico and Georgia say no charges are planned against Wilbanks.
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