Monday, May 02, 2005

What should be Jennifer Wilbanks’ fate?

The runaway bride is back. We’re all glad she wasn’t really kidnapped. We’re all glad she’s safe and unharmed. Now what?

What we know is that she left nearly all her earthly possessions, including her engagement ring, at home when she went jogging, and never came back. She caught a bus, and headed west to Albuquerque. Somehow, she got to the bus station, and somewhere she got the money to buy a ticket. There’s the suggestion she bought the bus ticket a week earlier in another town. True? We don’t yet know. But either she bought the ticket early, in which case this was clearly a premeditated act, or she had enough money when she went jogging to buy the ticket. If that’s true, why did she leave everything else at home? It’s pretty clear that this was not a spur of the moment decision.

We also know that she called 911 and told authorities that she had been kidnapped. That was a lie. What was the purpose of this lie? This is no kid. If it was a 20-year-old girl, you might be able to excuse all of this as youthful stupidity. But Jennifer Wilbanks is 32; she’s no immature little girl. And if she did indeed get cold feet, was it really necessary to put her fiancé, her family, and her friends, through days of hell wondering if she was alive or hurt? Efforts to locate Ms. Wilbanks must have cost thousands of dollars, and diverted some law enforcement resources away from real cases to look for this woman.

So, some questions arise:

  • Will sympathy take over, and she will be excused for her crimes and indiscretions? “The poor little thing. She needs our understanding,” you can hear the apologists saying.
  • Will she be charged with a misdemeanor? This is the very least she should get. A stiff fine to pay for the money she caused officials and family to spend looking for her.
  • Will she be charged with a felony? This might be more appropriate. A fine, some jail time or probation might get the point across to others who might try the same thing.
  • Will her fiancé still want a relationship with her? I can’t imagine a more vicious slap in the face before the wedding than what was done to him. But love causes people to do strange things.
It will be very interesting to watch this situation play out. I think it will tell us a lot about ourselves.


Buffalo said...

What crime did she commit other than a false police report in NM?

James Shott said...

As I understand it, she could be charged in both New Mexico and Georgia.

Story here.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Buffalo. She didn't concoct some scenario that led people to believe she'd been kidnapped. She simply said she'd gone jogging and walked out the door. The phony police report is one thing, but that was after all the police had been mobilized- by the 24 hr News channels' incessant coverage!! They're the ones who should have to pay for the police deployment!

James Shott said...

First, Anonymous, thanks for visiting and commenting.

Now, what do you suppose she expected that people would think after she disappeared? It seems to me there are only two possibilities: 1) She just ran away. 2) She was kidnapped. I have to believe that she thought about that. Remember that she finagled her way off work to go get the bus ticket a week prior to running away. She spent some time planning this. And also remember that absolutely no one close to her thought she had just run away.

When someone disappears, are the authorities supposed to do nothing? If they don't know what happened to the person, it is reasonable and prudent to proceed as if a kidnapping has occurred.

I get a little tired of the same old thing all the time on the 24-hour news channels, too. But in the case of a child or adult who disappears, I think the record will show that the exposure generally helps authorities find the missing person. If not, I don't believe anyone can show that it hurts.

I don't think she ought to go to jail, but I do think she ought to take responsibility for her behavior. She caused a lot of people a lot of worry and stress, and she caused authorities to expend resources for no reason. I think either probation or community service time and a fine or restitution are absolutely necessary.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous here again,

My point is, the police would not have exhausted 1/10 of the resources looking for her (just another missing person) had the media not hyped it so irresposibly, hoping for her corpse to turn up somewhere.

Due to the extreme premeditation involved, I wouldn't be against a public apology and repayment of resources for what a typical missing person case requires.

I still blame the media.

James Shott said...

Welcome back!

I have to disagree with you here. Perhaps TV does tend to magnify the law enforcement response, but I'd venture that potential kidnappings get an aggressive response from police. I'd like to believe that authorities would pull out all the stops with or without TV coverage.

Maybe you know more about this than I. If so, please educate me.

Anonymous said...

Ahh, but there was no evidence it was kidnapping until she made up the false police report- AFTER resources had been spent (unless you count the media's fixation on it as evidence enough, which suggests to me their culpability). No blood, no sign of struggle, no torn garment on the jogging path. Just media speculation 24/7.

I don't believe the police would have treated this like a kidnap victim in absence of the constant coverage. They're not idiots. They know they have limited resources and will not allocate so many to one person when they don't even know if that person is in danger.

Just ask the families of any of the hundreds recently missing persons who simply up and disappeared.

James Shott said...

I think in your eagerness to blame the media you are overlooking, or underestimating the fact that there are only three possibilities when someone disappears: 1) They ran away 2) They had an accident 3) They were kidnapped.

In her case, everyone close to her poo-pooed the possibility that she ran away, leaving effectively only two possibilities, accident or kidnapping, both of which are serious possibilities where the life and safety of the missing person are in jeopardy. A law enforcement agency that sits on its hands when faced with those two possibilities is opening itself up for legal action.

They may have limited resources, but those resources are provided for just such emergencies. What good are police, etc. if they cannot apply those resources to aid taxpayers/citizens?

I don't argue that in a case where there is a high liklihood that the person ran away that authorities do not commit resources. However, this case is not one of those.