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AWOL Bride Asked To Apologize

She fled her lavish wedding, triggered a massive police search, and she says she's sorry.

Jennifer Wilbanks is "deeply regretful" about the pain she caused her family, fiancé, friends and the community, lawyer Lydia Sartain said in a statement.

But townspeople who joined in the three-day search for runaway bride are getting increasingly peeved that they still have not heard an apology straight from her.

"She made a big mistake. She needs to come out and face it," said Ron Harris, owner of The Soda Shop in this Atlanta suburb, where most patrons were annoyed Wilbanks has been back in Georgia since Saturday but hasn't said a word about her disappearance.

Sartain, the former district attorney of an area that includes two Georgia counties, has been hired to represent Wilbanks and plans a news conference Thursday afternoon, along with the pastor of Wilbanks' church.

The runaway bride hasn't been charged with a crime, but prosecutors have said they are investigating the matter. And the mayor of her hometown has suggested Wilbanks could be sued for the cost of the search effort.

A spokesman for Lakewood Baptist Church in Gainesville — where Wilbanks has been undergoing counseling — has said she likely will issue a more detailed statement this week.

Mayor Shirley Lasseter, who is considering a lawsuit to recoup the $40,000 to $60,000 cost of the search, said the community has clearly grown tired of waiting for Wilbanks.

"Now some of the sentiment is changing to, 'This is going on too long. This is pitiful.'"

"She is not in it to please the public," Sartain said. "She wants the public to know that she is sorry, but she really is not well."

The 32-year-old Wilbanks touched off an extensive search last week when she vanished from her Duluth, Ga., home four days before her scheduled 600-guest wedding.

Wilbanks' possible prosecution is up to Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter. Porter is in the early stages of an investigation into the matter, and it may be weeks before he decides whether to file criminal charges.

An array of questions remains about the case of the bride-to-be.

Porter said the dollar figures don't add up: Wilbanks told police she took only $140 with her when she left her Duluth, Ga., house to go jogging on April 26. But Porter tells the Gwinnett Daily Post the cost for such a journey would be more than $260, not including food, hotels or other miscellaneous purchases.

Her fiancé, John Mason, told authorities when she disappeared that she had left behind her purse with identification and credit cards as well as her cell phone, keys and engagement ring.

Meanwhile, an advocacy group for Hispanics is demanding an apology from Jennifer Wilbanks for falsely claiming in a 911 call a Hispanic man had abducted her.

The president of the group Hispanics Across America said Jennifer Wilbanks' cover story before admitting to a case of cold feet endangered Hispanic males across the country and contributed to bias.

"While I understand this is a troubled woman, we cannot and will not stand for any racial stereotyping of Hispanics as criminals and thugs," Fernando Mateo said.

Wilbanks touched off an extensive search last week when she vanished from her suburban Atlanta home days before her wedding and took a bus to Las Vegas. She then went to Albuquerque, N.M., where she called 911 and her fiancé late Friday, giving them a phony story about being kidnapped by a Hispanic man and a white woman.

Porter said he has also received numerous complaints from members of the community about Wilbanks' false accusation against a fictitious Hispanic male.

"They're asking, 'What would've happened if the Albuquerque police had located this fake couple?' An unknown Hispanic male all of a sudden becomes the bogeyman," he said.

In addition to demanding an apology, Mateo said he would like Wilbanks to perform community service in a Hispanic neighborhood as part of any possible punishment.

Authorities have already said Wilbanks was hardly acting impulsively when she vanished days before her lavish wedding.

She purchased a bus ticket out of town a week in advance using an assumed name and cut her hair in an apparent effort to disguise her appearance.

"Her cutting her hair and getting on a bus and riding out of here ain't none of Danny Porter's business," Mason said. "And that's not criminal as far as I'm concerned."

Mason is defending his fiancée's decision, and says he still wants to walk down the aisle with her. The guilt she is dealing with "has got to be consequence enough to me," Mason said in an interview with Fox News' "Hannity & Colmes" show.

It was Mason's first public statement since he learned on the morning of his wedding day that his intended had gotten cold feet.

"We would still welcome her back to the family," Mason's father Claude said Tuesday on CBS News' The Early Show.

"I just said, 'John, you just know what's best for you. We've tried to help you through this as best we can, and it's your decision to make," Claude Mason told co-anchor Harry Smith. "'And if you decide you still want to marry her, be happy. Go with what makes you happy.'"

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