Anger outweighs joy in bride's town
Published: Sunday, May 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 30, 2005 at 9:15 p.m.
DULUTH, Ga. - They searched woods and alleys, crawled in sewage drains and stayed up late looking for a local woman who went missing four days before her wedding.
When residents of this Atlanta suburb learned that Jennifer Wilbanks ran away because she had cold feet, they thanked God she was safe - then shook their heads at her act.
"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 on the day Wilbanks was supposed to be married in a lavish ceremony that included 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen.
Moments after the word came Saturday that Wilbanks, 32, 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.
Many called for Wilbanks to face criminal charges, even though Duluth Police Chief Randy Belcher said none would be filed.
"There should be some responsibility for all this expense to the police," said Jo Cripps, eating boiled crawfish at a downtown Cajun restaurant. "Certainly she owes an apology to all the people who came out and volunteered."
Some were visibly angry.
"I'm glad that she's found," said Ryan Kelly, owner of Park Cafe, a shop a few blocks from Wilbanks' home that gave out coffee and sandwiches to those who searched for her this week. "But that being said, this is one of the most selfish and self-centered acts I've ever seen. We saw her parents, and you could see the anguish in their eyes. It was terrible."
At nearby Deli-Boy Subs, Amanda Melby called the disappearance "a disgrace."
"She should've had a little respect and called her parents, or at least her maid of honor if she didn't want to call them," Melby said. "What if it happens again where somebody goes missing and people don't take it seriously?"
Meanwhile, the minister who was to perform the wedding pleaded for understanding for Wilbanks. The Rev. Alan Jones, associate pastor of Peachtree Corners Baptists Church, reported that her fiance, John Mason, said, "Everybody has a right to make a mistake."
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