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Runaway bride issues apology

| Friday, May 6, 2005

GAINESVILLE, Ga. -- Runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks apologized Thursday for disappearing just before her wedding day, and insisted cryptically that her flight was prompted not by cold feet, but by "a host of compelling issues, which seemed out of control."

Wilbanks, whose three-day disappearance led to a nationwide search, initially told investigators she had been abducted by a Hispanic male and white woman with a handgun, a story that quickly unraveled. Albuquerque, N.M., police said yesterday that Wilbanks also claimed she had been sexually assaulted, but recanted with the rest of her story.

In a statement read by her father's pastor, the Rev. Tom Smiley, Wilbanks said she was "truly sorry for the troubles I caused."

Wilbanks said her flight by bus to Las Vegas and eventually to Albuquerque was not in response to her pending wedding, which had been scheduled four days after she vanished.

"Those who know me know how excited I've been, and how excited I was about the spectacular wedding we planned, and how I could not wait to be Mrs. John Mason," the statement said.

"In my mind, it was never about the timing, however unfortunate. I was simply running from myself and from certain fears controlling my life."

Wilbanks said she has asked for the forgiveness of her fiance, their families, friends, churches and communities "and any others I may have offended unintentionally," adding that she was "deeply grateful and appreciative to everyone who responded on my behalf."

Many of those in the community expressed disgust when they learned that she had run off without telling anyone.

"Each day I am understanding more about who I am and the issues that influenced me to respond inappropriately," Wilbanks' statement said.

Smiley, who has been counseling Wilbanks, said she "poured her heart and her soul into this statement. These are her words and these are her feelings."

Wilbanks' attorney Lydia Sartain has said her client is seeking professional help for her problems and is in no condition to publicly answer questions. Wilbanks has been in seclusion with her family since her return to Georgia late Saturday.

Her statement did not address Duluth Mayor Shirley Lasseter's request that she repay the city for the costs of the search. Lasseter also had wanted Wilbanks to commit to perform community service in the town.

The city is considering a lawsuit to recoup its costs, while Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter is investigating possible criminal charges against Wilbanks for falsely reporting a crime. Porter said last night he had not seen any information on the sexual assault claim and was awaiting an FBI report on Wilbanks' statements to authorities in Albuquerque.

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