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CNN BREAKING NEWS
Jennifer Wilbanks Found in New Mexico
Aired April 30, 2005 - 06:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Alleged suspect in this case. She was found at a convenience store there in Albuquerque, New Mexico and from what I understand, basically with all the media coverage that's been going on in a search for Jennifer Wilbanks, she has told authorities that her abductors apparently just let her go, let her out and she called from a payphone at that convenience store where she was released, called home. Called her step father, Roger Parish, by a collect call and said, "I am alive, I'm cold, I'm tired."
TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And thirsty.
NGUYEN: Thirsty. We had no idea what kind of ordeal she's experience in these past three days, but the good news, this morning, out of all of it, despite the worry, despite all that has happened is that Jennifer Wilbanks is alive.
HARRIS: And you have to say, how improbable, how improbable is that? We're talking about three plus days now. That she has...
NGUYEN: Because usually after 24 hours it doesn't look very good.
HARRIS: Absolutely, and the authorities are honest enough to tell all of us that and we just know it from past experiences that anything past the first 48 hours, the odds of finding that missing person alive and well, diminish exponentially.
And as you heard form the public information officer or officer there in Albuquerque, they were certainly surprised to find her in the kind of shape that she was in, so it has to be said that, you know, this is -- this is quit an amazing turn of events that Jennifer Wilbanks has been found alive, apparently well. She is being questioned now by the FBI. She will later be taken to a hospital for an examination and there are a lot of questions, a lot questions that will have to be answered and stories will be matched up and facts and details will have to be sorted though as authorities try to move on now with this investigation and find these people. You described them as a white female with possibly an Hispanic male who, Jennifer tells authorities, were responsible for her abduction.
NGUYEN: And this investigation is ongoing, as you just mentioned Tony, she is with the FBI. After that, she will be taken to the hospital, there in Albuquerque, to be checked out. There is the possibility that she may have been sexually assaulted. That, of course, all is still under investigation. But, let's get an update now, from police there in Albuquerque on what they know so far. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRISH AHRENSFIELD, ALBUQUERQUE POLICE: She is here, she is with police she is -- does not appear to be any life threatening injuries. We are going to get her medical attention and we will be talking to her in the next couple hours.
QUESTION: What was the circumstance that you all came to find her -- have her in the back of a police car?
AHRENSFIELD: My understanding is that this female had called her family, called their police there, and then, through that they were -- we were dispatched. Basically they connected the police there to the police here and we then received a call and that's when we found her at Solano and Central.
QUESTION: The APD got a call saying, please go to Solano and Central?
AHRENSFIELD: Yes, in reference to a possible kidnapping victim.
QUESTION: And who responded to -- the beat sergeant beat officer?
AHRENSFIELD: The sergeant, I believe a couple of beat officers and good police work lead them possibly to have a link to a possible connection with the female from Georgia. And so they called their sergeant and that is where we are right now. And again, more importantly she is safe and with us.
QUESTION: What made you guys think that there was this connection between (INAUDIBLE) was it just something that tipped you guys off...
AHRENSFIELD: Yes, I believe she some -- several comments that -- and not only that, things have been plastered all over the news about a female from Georgia, and I guess, the officer, I believe, even almost recognized her, so at this time we have not confirmed that, but it's a very high possibility that we believe this is her and she is safe.
QUESTION: And, you mentioned you'd actually gotten to talk to the sergeant. What was his reaction -- what were the officer's (INAUDIBLE) the whole situation? It's got to be...
AHRENSFIELD: Just, I think they're amazed the fact that -- that if in fact this is her, that is here and she is alive and not injured and it appears, at this time, again, like no life threatening injuries, so we are very glad that she is safe.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
NGUYEN: That was Trish Ahrensfield with the Albuquerque Police Department, and she kept mentioning, if in fact this indeed is Jennifer Wilbanks. Well, later on in that short press conference that you just saw right there with Trish Ahrensfield from Albuquerque Police, she did say it was -- it is Jennifer Wilbanks who they found at the convenience store early this morning in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
HARRIS: And let's go to reporter, Charles Molineaux, who is with us now on the phone from Duluth.
And Charles, what an extraordinary morning. What can you tell us?
CHARLES MOLINEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: An extraordinary morning here and it's been an amazing scene, here at the home of Jennifer's fiance, John Mason, who obviously, up until midnight was in some dire situations, emotionally speaking, but now an incredibly happy scene. Spontaneous applause and, of course, a big crush of media. This was to be a huge event in town, 600 people were supposed to come to this wedding. There were going to be 15 bridesmaids. (INAUDIBLE) Lindsey Satterfield was one of them and this has got to be an amazing day for you.
LINDSEY SATTERFIELD, BRIDESMAID: It's unreal. You just can't even imagine the -- what's going through us right now.
MOLINEAUX: What happened about midnight? You didn't know what was going on. What has been going on over the course of the past few hours as the news came in? How did it come to you?
SATTERFIELD: Well, about midnight, actually, we left here, my family and I did, went down to my parent's just got a house around this area. Went over there, got phone call at 1:30, as soon as the phone rang, all we could hear was my father screaming "She's alive, she's alive" and we came straight here. We were here by 1:45.
MOLINEAUX: What kind of an emotional rollercoaster have you been on over the past three days?
SATTERFIELD: It's just been -- it's been strange. There's been weeping, there's been plenty of, you know, laughing, crying, we've gone though all of the emotions that are all coming straight from -- it's coming from out strength, that's the way we've had to come together.
MOLINEAUX: There have been all kinds of questions including questions about John. Questions about whether he would take a polygraph test, talk to the FBI, talk to Georgia Bureau of Investigation. How has that been?
SATTERFIELD: Well, John is our cousin and we've loved him since day one and it's never even crossed our minds. We understand that this procedure, that's what the police have to do and we're all in support of the legal system, let them do their jobs. And then we knew that it was, you know, time to find what really happened.
MOLINEAUX: I understand that this is pretty close family. What has that done, over the course of the past few days? And what has happened to your relationship? SATTERFIELD: Well, we have actually a pretty large family, as well, and I truly believe that strength happens in numbers and when you get all of us all together, you know, you can never imagine us even closer, and now we're even closer and closer and, you know, it's -- I'm very fortunate to have this family.
MOLINEAUX: The wedding was supposed to be today. What happens now?
SATTERFIELD: Well, we'll worry about the deals later. If she wants to get married as soon as she arrives right here, and all of us in our jeans and however we are, then the wedding is on. We're going to let John and Jennifer make that decision and we'll fully support them and we will be there.
MOLINEAUX: I understand it's going to have to be maybe a little bit bigger because this whole community is now invested in this couple.
SATTERFIELD: That's right and that's OK. Already at 600 people, we can expand there, it just goes to have a support from all the surrounding communities in this area, we're very fortunate.
MOLINEAUX: Lindsey Satterfield, thank you so much. A bridesmaid and cousin of Jennifer Wilbanks. And as you can imagine, a palpable feeling of just incredible joy and relief here, as the family prepares to head off to Albuquerque for the reunion with Jennifer. The expectation is that they'll be flying out at about 11:00 Eastern time, this morning. And the wedding plans may not come through today, but they are still on.
HARRIS: Charles, just quick question. Is Lindsey still close by.
MOLINEAUX: She is indeed.
HARRIS: Would you ask her for me, what this -- this whole process has been like for her father, Mike, who ended up being -- taking on the role of family spokesman...
SATTERFIELD: My father is very, very strong man, and I have to say that that's where I get my strength from. Our family is very strong and knew that she's a fighter and we're all fighters and, you know, it's -- my father is an amazing person, he spends so much with the community, but what he does for our family is, you know, it's brought us all together to have someone to represent us, yesterday -- or today at the -- at the -- you know, the new conference that we had with everyone. You just can't even imagine him to be able to stand up there and, you know, be strong and that's what we've had to do, is just get our strength for the support of Jennifer and that's where it comes from.
HARRIS: Well, and Lindsey, that -- let me just follow up on that point, because there were a couple of time yesterday when he became choked up with emotion and I was just sort of curious how he was able to handle that official role of speaking on behalf of the family and -- and then his own emotions of the ordeal.
SATTERFIELD: Well, as you can tell, from my family, our emotions are show in all different way and, you know, we know that we have to be strong and we need to be strong and when we're, you know, sitting there, the whole point of, you know, us doing that is for people to know that we are grieving and we are still searching and, you know, people seeing us laughing and crying, this is just our emotions coming out and, you know, my father has had so much experience in public speaking and you know, everything that he's done and now with, you know, Homeland Security, those type of things, he's just -- it's just what he has to do and when you know you have to do something you come though, and especially for your family.
HARRIS: You step up and you get it done. Lindsay, thank you.
SATTERFIELD: Thank you so much.
HARRIS: Have a great morning. I don't need to tell you that. It's going to be a great morning, it's been a great morning so far.
MOLINEAUX: (INAUDIBLE) morning. Tony, I'll tell you it's exciting here, and the family members are just milling around. There are outbreaks of hugs and cheers, it's been pretty extraordinary to see this situation, because -- and, let's admit it, we've covered some of these stories in the past and it isn't very often we see a happy ending materialize in one of them. And a pretty extraordinary situation, as this has turned out.
HARRIS: Charles, thank you.
NGUYEN: He makes a good point, because all morning long, and speaking with the family, we have heard those cheers in the background while we've had family members on the phone. But just put yourself -- imagine how John Mason feels this morning. He is the fiance to Jennifer Wilbanks, he is a man who has been questioned about her disappearance, but he's also a man who had stuck by this search and desperately wanted to find his fiance, the woman that he was prepared to marry today.
Now, we don't think that's going to happen just yet, but hey, who knows in this story because it is taken so many twists and turns. Let's listen to what John Mason has to say.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN MASON, FIANCE TO JENNIFER WILBANKS: I was crying, I was laughing, I was trying to stay calm to talk to her to keep her calm and it's just so much and, you kind of have to keep yourself composed because she didn't know where she was and she was scared to death. And I had to try to keep her on the phone until we got somebody to her. And when I finally put the phone down I was just, almost had the burden of the world you know, off my shoulders.
QUESTION: How long where you on the phone with her?
MASON: Oh, I don't know, five, 10 minutes, something like that. QUESTION: Was there anyone she asked for, in particular?
MASON: She asked for me and then she asked for her momma. She said, "where's my momma?" I said "she'll be here in just any minute, where on the phone with her right now."
QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) what's the first thing she said? What was the very first -- the phone rang, you picked it up, what did she say? What did you say?
MASON: I said "baby" and she said "yeah, it's me." I said, "Hey, I love you, honey," I said, "where are you?" and then she didn't know anything about where she was, so that's when we started talking to her about staying there and staying on the phone, and all that.
QUESTION: How much did she talk about what happened?
MASON: She didn't. She did not with me. I had said "are you OK," and she said "yeah" and that's all I asked her. I was just trying to keep her there and keep her -- calm her down enough to -- to where we could get the police to her and get her back, get her safe.
MASON: We, Roger me the phone with Jennifer and I talked to her. He called the Duluth Police Department and then Chief Belcher come down here and, I don't know if he ran or if he drove his car, but he was here awful fast. And he -- we got the caller I.D. phone number from the payphone, wherever figure out you know, that number. And -- and they somehow traced it back. He did it, I don't know how he did it, but he did it somehow. And he talked to Jennifer a little bit, and he got some, you know, clues as to where they are, and all that. And so, anyway, yeah.
QUESTION: What are your planning for the next 24 hours?
MASON: Oh wow. I can't help you there. I'm flying to New Mexico, that's about all I know I'm doing.
QUESTION: Any plans tonight?
MASON: I guess we fly back, I don't know.
QUESTION: John, John. How are you feeling right now? We're on live...
MASON: Right now I'm just ecstatic. I'm (INAUDIBLE), I'm overjoyed, I'm just -- I don't know what to say, really.
QUESTION: What's been your thoughts as you were the center, at some time, of some -- of some controversy regarding what had happened here.
MASON: Oh, I was angry about all of that. There was no way -- I don't know if there was anyway I could not have been angry, but I was, but I just tried to focus my attention on how do we help her and where is she going to come from and how we going to get her back? And I tried not to dwell too much on the anger. When I'd see it on TV or I'd have the different conversations, it would creep into my mind, it's impossible for it not to.
QUESTION: How did she sound when you talked to her?
MASON: She sounded OK, I mean she was scared and crying, but she sounded OK.
QUESTION: Did she say how that could have happened?
MASON: Somebody took her, that's all I know. They grabbed her off the street. That's all I know.
QUESTION: Your faith through all of this, John?
MASON: Oh man, that's just -- when you lose the person closest to you, you realize how important your faith is to you and I felt god's presence just with my family and with all my friends and the church members and the preachers and everybody that's been here and all the prayer that's been in this house and around this house and for us all over the country and the world, for that matter.
NGUYEN: There have been a lot prayers going out for that family.
HARRIS: I'll tell you what, let's take folk around through that house if we can. CNN's Charles Molineaux is standing by. We've go him up, we can see him now and hear him, he's outside of the Mason family home in Duluth.
Good morning, Charles.
MOLINEAUX: Good morning and take a look. It's a pretty extraordinary scene here outside the home where, of course, there's been this anxious vigil going on, building over the course of the past three days and then turning into a really anguished situation along around midday yesterday when police said they were calling off the official search of the immediate area, they'd done everything that they could.
The family was offering $100,000 award for information as to what might have happened to Jennifer and then along around 1:30 this morning the word came in, Jennifer called her fiance from, as it turned out Albuquerque, New Mexico, although she didn't know where she was. Called him up, she was very concerned, as you've heard him say and absolutely ecstatic irruption irrupted here and over the course of the past few hours we have seen these bursts of applause as people watch the developments come in and they realize that this really is the truth that Jennifer is OK and that the reunion is going to be underway a little later today. The family is currently making plans to fly out to Albuquerque to get back together with her, but it has been an anguished few days and now we're going to be looking at a very happy reunion and wedding that was supposed to happen today, won't happen today, but it will be happening after all.
Let's take a look at one very happy guy who's been waiting a long time for some good news. Let's make sure everyone knows who you are.
JAY PARRISH, JENNIFER'S STEPBROTHER: I'm Jay Parrish, I'm Jennifer's stepbrother.
MOLINEAUX: Let's talk about around midnight tonight, you folks had to have been at a real low point. What happened?
PARRISH: Um, you know, I'll back up a little bit before that. Last night, I went to bed and I lost hope. Unfortunately, I did. And I laid there just staring at the ceiling just asking god "why?" and I finally fell asleep, luckily and I was sleeping harder than I slept in three days and then phone rang, and my wife answered it and that -- when she was talking when was about when I came to, you know, it was that weird feeling when you wake up and I said "Hello?" and the voice on the other end said "Jay they've got her and she's alive and she's OK" and I didn't know if it was a prank call or what, I said "who is this?" He said, "Jay, it's John." It was, you know, her fiance, John, and so we cried for a little bit of happiness, you know, tears of joy and I said, "I'll be there as soon as I can get there." I called my sisters at home and got everybody together and we came straight down.
MOLINEAUX: What about family, we hear a lot about this, about this being a very large, but also a very close family? What have you had to do for each other over the past few days?
PARRISH: You know, every moment was a different moment. We had to keep hope and face truth and there would be times that we'd sit together and we would laugh because we would tell stories about Jennifer and what she did and different things that she did in her life that were funny, just to keep -- to keep the -- that side of us alive and then a lot of times we would just sit there and cry and hold each other and hope and pray and you know, everybody thought it was going to be a, you know, an unhappy ending, including myself, but I believe our god's come though and we're getting Jennifer back.
MOLINEAUX: You talk about that, faith seems to be a major part of this story for this family over the past few days, you've had your pastors from here in Duluth as well as up the road in Gainesville. What has that been for you?
PARRISH: Faith hasn't been a major part, it's been the part. You know, we know that god does everything for a reason. We looked a lot of time at, you know, the story of Job and what he went through and we kept faith in god and that's where our trust is that -- that's why we got Jennifer back. The bottom line is, that's why Jennifer's coming home is because our god is a loving god.
MOLINEAUX: Let's go back to yesterday afternoon, the police said that they were calling off their search. They'd gone over five square mile three times and didn't think they were going to come up with anything, meanwhile today was supposed to be Jennifer's wedding day. How was everybody doing at that moment? PARRISH: Um, everyone understood there was nothing else around here to look for. We, you know, we were part of the search teams and we were kept very informed of what as going on in the searches and we understood that putting other people out there was just pointless. We had -- like the chief said, we turned over every leaf in this city, so that -- it was a low point. We didn't -- we knew that had to happen and we hoped we'd never get to that point. Um, we dreaded going to a prayer vigil tonight at the time a wedding was supposed to be. So, all those emotions wound on and you know, as time went on the more worried and worried we got that we wouldn't see Jennifer again, and you know, that's what you get for doubting god, he's powerful and this is just testimony of how people's faith should be and if you're a parent out there and you've lost somebody, never lose the faith.
MOLINEAUX: It looks like you're going to have a wedding after all.
PARRISH: That's right, we are.
MOLINEAUX: What's it going to be like? It's got to be very different from what you all were planning.
PARRISH: It's going to be a lot different. You know, I'm sure a lot of y'all will be there to cover it, but it's going to be a celebration, a wedding that -- for I'll say, a wedding for a princess.
MOLINEAUX: Family, for this wedding's going to be a little bit bigger than you'd anticipated, I imagine, you've probably discovered some family you didn't know you had.
PARRISH: No, I don't know about family we didn't know we had. A lot of friends, a lot of friends pouring out, um, there'll be plenty of people there. I'm sure of that.
MOLINEAUX: There was some talk, not very pleasant talk about John as the situation went on there was talk about polygraphs and people were looking at him a little funny. How was that? How did that go over, how'd the family handle that?
PARRISH: We had call for, you know, console and John handled it very well. He -- we understood why the police were doing that. And we understood that the police had eliminate him from the investigation and that the polygraph would be the best way to do that. It was just, you know, with all the media coverage and this being a national story, it just took time and John was, he was as emotional as you can imagine, ups and downs and so, he handled it very well. He understood, but now, I think, he's just ready to scream that he didn't have nothing to do with it and he wants the world to know that and this isn't the Laci Peterson story, it's the Jennifer Wilbanks story and we're getting her home safe and alive.
MOLINEAUX: Jay Parrish, thank you so much for being with us and enjoy the good news.
PARRISH: Take care. MOLINEAUX: That's the situation. That is what we keep hearing over and over again, that this wedding, all right, it's probably not going to be this evening. First there was going to be the wedding today, then there was going to be a prayer vigil, hoping for Jennifer's safe return. Now, well it won't be happening, but it will be happening eventually. And actually, Jennifer's father says that maybe the wedding can't be in the Methodist church here in Duluth, after all, it may have to be in the town square so everybody can come out because everybody has taken part in this story. And a truly incredibly story -- truly incredible story for this family and one that has turned out with an ending that, after three long days, a lot of people had stopped daring to hope was going to come.
HARRIS: Charles, it's 6:22 Eastern time in the morning, here. And I want you, if you would, to just soft of turn around and talk us through all of that activity that is going on behind you. We've seen cars going up and down the street behind you as you've been talking to Jay.
MOLINEAUX: Yeah, it's 6:22 on a Saturday morning and not what you would expect to see in a town like Duluth, but the cars are lined up back and forth along the street. Of course, we have got media all over, from all over the country, all over the Atlanta area, and really all over the world. I can tell you that just a few minutes ago the mother of Jennifer was talking to "People" magazine. This has been a -- the focus of an incredible amount attention.
Of course, an incredible story, this woman who vanished right before her wedding and now to have turned up safe and sound after all. I asked her family as to whether any of them have been getting any sleep and they say they've catching little fits and starts. You heard Jay say he actually managed to get some over the course of the night, but it has been a real tough road for a lot of them.
And, as you can imagine, wrenching moments of hope and despair. The police were talking about, for example, hair found in the vicinity where Jennifer disappeared. What in the world could that mean? Now we've heard, of course, that she told her family and the police that someone had cut her hair. It may well indeed turn out to have been hers, but imagine what goes through someone's mind when you hear something like that. Now we're talking "CSI" stuff and usually those stories are not very happy ones and all of a sudden a 180 degree turn for this family over the course of a few hours, over the evening and now...
MOLINEAUX: Quite a scene outside this house...
HARRIS: You need traffic control out there, Charles.
MOLINEAUX: ...the shouts. There -- the police are here watching traffic. I'm sure they're a lot happier doing that then what they were doing a few hours ago, which is keeping...
HARRIS: Searching for Jennifer, yes. MOLINEAUX: ...anxious vigil.
HARRIS: All right, Charles we appreciate it, thank you. Stay close.
NGUYEN: And for those of you just joining us this morning, just a recap right now. We have been following the disappearance and now appearance of Jennifer Wilbanks. She has been found and found alive in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She placed a phone call home this morning to let her family that she indeed is alive. There are a lot of questions, though. But this was supposed to be her wedding day and let's listen to what her father has to say about all of these turns of events.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS WILBANKS, JENNIFER'S FATHER: We had people praying as far away as Africa, Turkey, I don't know where all. I don't know what caused them to let her go, I just -- but you tell Nancy that she was the most compassionate interviewer I -- I've done several...
RANDI KAYE, CNN ANCHOR: I certainly will. Do you know what -- have you talked to your daughter yet?
WILBANKS: Yes, I have. I talked to her, we're -- we're leaving on a plane sometime around 11:00. Flying out there and bringing her home. We may have the biggest wedding in the -- we may invite the whole country to this wedding.
KAYE: Are you -- are you planning bringing her back to Georgia today, as well.
WILBANKS: As soon as we -- as soon as we can get her back. We're leaving...
KAYE: And what -- tell me about...
WILBANKS: We're going, like I say, we're flying out approximately 11:00, sometime or another, I'm not sure when.
KAYE: What do you expect that flight will feel like for you?
WILBANKS: It will be the best flight I've ever been on in my life.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Not only the flight, but the moment when they see her and give her that big hug just knowing that she, indeed, they've seen her with their own eyes that she indeed is alive and well. That was Jennifer Wilbanks' father, Harris Wilbanks. That flight is going to be taking place around 11:00, that's when her family is headed to Albuquerque, New Mexico. But, we should learn a little bit more about this investigation earlier than that. Around 7:00 Eastern time, this morning, Albuquerque police, along with the FBI will be holding a news conference and hopefully we will learn some more, not only about the disappearance about those who are responsible for that disappearance and how all of this played out. So, we will bring you -- bringing that to you live when it happens at 7:00 a.m. Eastern.
HARRIS: We have to say it's been such pleasure to hear the responses and the reactions to this good news from the Mason family form Wilbanks family this morning. We all know it could have turned out dramatically differently for both of those family. Let's listen now to Jennifer's twin brother, Matthew, as he reacts to the good news.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
MATTHEW WILBANKS, JENNIFER'S BROTHER: The yard's full of people, so there is quite a few here right now, already, so phone's ringing off the hook. I felt like we'd have an outcome like this -- I mean I have no reason to believe that I won't -- I hear people say "why would he say that?" but, I just felt, I felt pretty good that I was worried, don't get me wrong, but I felt like she would show up somehow and I even told a couple of people, I mean this is going to sound crazy, too, but I just, I told a couple people I thought she might call today, and...
M. WILBANKS: And it happened. I don't know if that's that twin power or whatever...
KAYE: I was going to say, that twin connection, there you have it.
M. WILBANKS: Yeah, but I mean I'm not psychic or anything like that, that was just pure optimism.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
HARRIS: And let's continue, let's hear more of this great reaction from the family. This is Jennifer's sister, Heather.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HEATHER WILBANKS, JENNIFER'S SISTER: I mean, we're just going to embrace her and be there for her and we're just going to get through this part of it. We're just glad she's back.
KAYE: What will you say to her when you see her?
H. WILBANKS: I love her.
KAYE: There were about 600 guests that were invited to this wedding are -- have you and many of the family members, there at John Mason's home been in touch with them and what's sort of been the mood as you make these phone calls and share the big news?
H. WILBANKS: Um, I mean, it's just like a chain. I had people -- while I was on the way down here, people were already calling me that had heard. I mean, I think all of Gainesville and Duluth probably know before it even hit the news. It was just -- it was amazing. People were just calling, calling, and calling, and calling in the middle of the night.
KAYE: Not only has your family been affected, but really the entire community, in Duluth and your area has been affected. What -- what has it been like for you as a family member, just around town. What have seen, certainly a pouring out of support, there in the community.
H. WILBANKS: That's right, I mean, everybody here, the people from Gainesville, the people here in Duluth, I mean, it's just an outpouring of love and they just blessed us so much they took care of us, they gave us support, they've comforted us. I mean, kidnapped for, people to do anymore than they've done.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NGUYEN: Well, we do want to remind you too that today was supposed to be Jennifer Wilbanks' wedding. She was marrying her fiance, John Mason, and while the wedding may not take place today, boy will there be a reunion. But, back here in Duluth, a lot of folks will be remaining in Georgia, not traveling to Albuquerque to pick up Jennifer. They're staying here to welcome her when she comes home because they were supposed to be her for this wedding. Some 600 guests invited to the wedding. She had 14 bridesmaids. They also took part, many of them, in the search for Jennifer. So let's listen to what one of the bridesmaids had to say today, her reaction to all of this. Her name is Kelly wood.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
KELLY WOOD, BRIDESMAID: It's been nothing but excitement and joy. Jennifer was so looking forward to getting married. She's awaited so long, and then she had -- she was so happy that she had John, she loved him so much, and it's just been nothing but excitement watching her prepare for this wedding.
KAYE: She had been missing for about three days and there was a lot of talk about so-called cold feet, which some brides and some grooms do get. What were your thoughts on that? Did you know Jennifer as your friend better than that this whole time?
WOOD: Yes, I never once thought it was cold feet. I knew Jennifer too well and she was too excited. I knew that she had not gotten cold feet.
KAYE: And what -- what has been the talk among the wedding party now, what do you think the plan will be? Is there one in place yet?
WOOD: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
KAYE: Is there -- is -- have you heard any talk with the wedding, obviously, called off for later this evening, have you heard any talk of when...
WOOD: I have not. KAYE: No. What are your plans in terms of trying help Jennifer after an experience like this? Getting through it?
WOOD: Just to be there for her anyway I can. Pray for her to have strength and anything she needs.
KAYE: Had you been the people who helped search for her?
WOOD: I'm sorry, I can't hear you.
KAYE: Kelly, have you taken part in any of the searches?
WOOD: Yes, I've been here everyday.
KAYE: And what was that like?
WOOD: Oh, it was um, it was horrible. Just to know that I was, you know, searching, walking up and down the streets and that it would just hit me that I'm not only walking up and down the streets looking for someone that it's Jennifer.
KAYE: And the waiting and the not knowing.
WOOD: It's been, I can't even describe how horrible it's been. Just to not know where she is or what's happened to her or if she's OK or not.
KAYE: Were you, obviously you were hopeful, but were you confident that this would be the outcome?
WOOD: Um, I had to not know. I just had to just faith in god and just pray that he would keep her safe.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NGUYEN: A lot of people close to Jennifer, especially those who were taking part in that search, really were mixed with emotion when it came to whether they believed she would be found alive, because after so much time, the chances, they just really get very, very slim. And I got to tell you, Tony, when I got the phone call this morning from our producer who woke me up, said, you've got to come in, the case has taken an amazing twist, and the first thing I said was, is she alive? And he said, "yes." And it's just one of those feelings that you think -- in these stories, finally, finally we found someone who was alive and not just an awful outcome that we see in so many of them.
HARRIS: Because, look, that -- the outcome usually is decidedly different than this one. And this woman has been missing since Tuesday evening when she went out for this jog and this is three days now, of a search. An incredible search on Wednesday, close to 300 people, what a mix of volunteers from the community who just heard about this and just decided to show up at police headquarters at this command center that the police had established, wanting to help, 300 people or more who just showed up. A mix of volunteers and police authorities, helicopters in the air, canine units, bloodhounds, everything that you could throw at this search, trying to find Jennifer. And to have this outcome, well and...
NGUYEN: And the way it all played out, too, I think, is very fascinating because we didn't hear it from police or anything like that that that was the call was made to the parents. We heard that it was Jennifer Wilbanks herself who called her parents, not police, but her parents to say "I am alive." And then they traced that call to Albuquerque, New Mexico, of all places, because she really didn't have an idea where she was. She was dropped off at a convenience store and there's still a search out there for these possible suspects. Very little is known about them, the motive, why they picked her up in Georgia. We have also learned that they cut her hair. Her hair...
HARRIS: What was that about?
NGUYEN: I don't know what that means at all, but her hair is shorter now. What that has to do with the motive behind this abduction, really leads to a lot of questions surrounding it. But not only that, the fact that she had told police that she was released by these captors, they just released her and she says because of the media coverage surrounding this disappearance, so all of it just leads you to ask so, so many questions about what exactly went down, how did it happen? But the good news today, and many times when we report missing people, especially after three days of searching, the outcome is rarely this good and the fact that Jennifer Wilbanks is alive. She's shaken up, there's -- there are some speculations out there that she may have been sexually assaulted, of course, that is an awful tragedy in this story, it that indeed is the case, but the fact is this morning, Jennifer Wilbanks is alive and her family is traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico. They will be doing that later this morning to meet up with her.
HARRIS: I'll tell you, you asked a string of question. Just a string of questions, and that's why, leading right up to this press conference that take us, our thinking right to this press conference. It's going to happen at 7:00 in Albuquerque with Albuquerque police and the FBI and a number of the questions that you laid out will be addressed. And we certainly hope...
NGUYEN: Hope so.
HARRIS: ...at that point, at 7:00. But, right now, the story is that of joy. Jennifer has been found, she apparently is safe, she certainly is alive, she made the call at about 1:30, 1:40?
NGUYEN: About 1:40 Eastern time.
HARRIS: Eastern time this morning. And since that time we have been inundated with just wonderful reaction from the family and a bit of reaction now from John Mason's father, what's to be Jennifer's father-in-law.
NGUYEN: Oh, he will be, I'm sure.
HARRIS: Shortly, this day. Let's listen to Claude Mason.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) KAYE: Can you...
CLAUDE MASON, JOHN MASON'S FATHER: She will be my daughter-in- lay.
KAYE: Yes, absolutely, it does appear that way. How does this news sit with you and how are you feeling at this moment?
MASON: I'm about as high as I can get, right now, without having taken any foreign substances, if that helps.
KAYE: I understand.
KAYE: Tell us, if you would how you found out that Jennifer was OK. How did the word come to you?
MASON: John called us, they had -- they got a call. She, evidently was abducted, and got loose out there, or they got scared and let her go and then she got on the phone (INAUDIBLE) find a phone and made a collect call here. So, that's how we found out. And John called us, so...
KAYE: And Claude, do you know anything about her captors? Was she able to share anything about what they may have wanted or had they threatened her or harmed her in any way?
MASON: I have no -- we have -- they, evidently, did not harm her. I, something about money, they never did make any demands on that, though, so we just don't know, we don't have details at all.
KAYE: And when will you be going out to Albuquerque to pick her up?
MASON: Later this morning.
KAYE: Later this morning.
KAYE: And who will be going with you?
MASON: It will be my wife and I, John, and the Jennifer's mother, father and stepfather and stepmother.
KAYE: Claude, if you...
MASON: There will be seven of us.
KAYE: If you would, can you just talk a little bit about how this time has been for you and your family, to not have the hope, the search was called off, the official search was called off, there had been clothing found...
MASON: Well, we never lost hope -- we never lost hope. KAYE: How did you hold on to it?
MASON: We -- by a thread. By a thread. We never talked about cancellation of anything, we talked about postponing, that's what why we did -- that's what we did.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HARRIS: All right, reaction from father-in-law-to-be, Clause Mason, John Mason's father. Let's get out the Albuquerque, New Mexico now and reporter Ellen Goldberg from KOAT, there.
And Ellen, we understand that there is a FBI, Albuquerque police news conference scheduled for 7:00, is that correct.
ELLEN GOLDBERG, KOAT: In just about 30 minutes, here, that would 5:00 Mountain time, a news conference is scheduled. We're hoping to obtain much more information. For now, there is still every indication that Jennifer Wilbanks is being interrogated in this police substation behind me. We're told she is being questioned by FBI agents. Now Albuquerque police are telling us that she is simply relieved to be in safe hands this morning, although we're told she looks tired and her hair is significantly shorter. We're told she was dressed in a sweatshirt when she was found, but no signs of obvious physical injury. She will be taken to the hospital a little later this morning where police can determine if she was sexually assaulted during her capture, but for now, police are trying to determine exactly who they're looking for as far her abductors.
We're told they're still looking for that blue van, with a Hispanic male and a white female. And attempt to locate has been put out in Albuquerque for that van, but police aren't saying what type of van, what model, or giving us a license plate, at this point. We're having to gather more information at that news conference coming up in a little less than 30 minutes.
Again, she was found at a 7-Eleven, here in Albuquerque, off of Central Avenue, which is a very busy street here in Albuquerque. Police area trying to determine and there appears to be good indication that there is surveillance video from that 7-Eleven, hopefully that can give them some clues as to who they're looking for, this morning. But again, Jennifer Wilbanks, safe and sound, here at this police substation. We're told she looked tired, but healthy and that she was certainly thirsty when she was found, asking the police officers that found her for something to drink. That has been taken care of. She is being questioned and then the next stop for her will be the hospital, of course. We're awaiting that news conference in just about 20 minutes, here.
Back to you.
HARRIS: Ellen, let's -- let's take this apart a little bit, if we can. Is Jennifer reporting to authorities there that she was released? Did she escape? What do we know about what she is telling them as to that part of the story? GOLDBERG: We haven't' heard much, as far as how she ended up at that 7-Eleven. Police here told us, I believe they used words "dropped off at the 7-Eleven." We're hoping to learn more about exactly how she wound up there. We were told she wasn't exactly clear where she was when she was there, what city she was in, perhaps, but we're hoping to learn more about how she ended up there.
HARRIS: OK, and then there's the question of the questioning. Do we know how long she was actually questioned by the authorities?
GOLDBERG: Well, we were told she was brought here about midnight, our time, and again, it is approaching 5:00 here, so she's been here for -- for close to five hour. We've been monitoring this back door of the police sub-station, haven't seen any activity there, so we are assuming that she is still here. Police are telling us that she is here, but that could change at that 5:00 news conference.
HARRIS: And, and these are authorities that that you deal with you deal with out there as a local reporter, there, in Albuquerque. Give us as sense of -- of, there's what they say and then there's the way they say it. Did you read anything extra into -- to what they were saying as they were describing the events as Jennifer shared those events with them?
GOLDBERG: I believe this came as much of a surprise, considering she was abducted in Georgia and for her to be located her in New Mexico, actually, the police spokesperson told us, that the police officer who happened to respond to the 7-Eleven, recognized her picture from television coverage and was surprised to see her in Albuquerque, and was even doubting himself, that it could in fact be her, and turned out it was. But, yes, awfully surprised, here, to be dealing with a story with such magnitude.
HARRIS: Ellen, I know you have to run. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.
GOLDBERG: Thank you.
NGUYEN: And of course, we do want to remind you, this morning, that there is press conference that will be taking place at 7:00 Eastern by Albuquerque police and the FBI and we hope to learn more information surrounding this disappearance, this abduction, and this apparent release of Jennifer Wilbanks, who has been found alive. We are going stay in coverage, rolling coverage throughout the morning, here on CNN. Stay tuned for another update on this story. We're going to take quick break, right now.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
HARRIS: Jennifer Wilbanks has been found, alive and well. Her family in Duluth, Georgia, as you can understand, is overwhelmed by this good news. Let's take you back out to Duluth, now, and CNN's Charles Molineaux -- Charles.
MOLINEAUX: Tony, I tell you what, the scene that was very frantic and frenetic just, oh, within the past couple of hours has stated calming down now because Jennifer Wilbanks family, especially her closest family has run inside the house. They're actually packing, because they're going to be flying out of Atlanta and heading over to Albuquerque, New Mexico for a reunion with her. Her parents and her fiance, John, who had been so worried over the past few days, suddenly know where she is. Of course, as we have been reporting, she turned up unexpectedly in Albuquerque, New Mexico telling police and her closest relatives that she had taken by two people, did know where she was and finally divulged, as the police looked at the caller I.D. and then began to realize what had happed, that that's where she was, at a convenience store in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
It has been a wild ride as her family looked forward to her wedding, it was supposed to be happening today, then suddenly a frantic search and a lot of desperation in the past 24 hours, as the official search of the area was called off as police figured there was nothing further to find out, and now this news.
Earlier we talked to her father, Harris Wilbanks, for whom it has been a wild 24 hours.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MOLINEAUX: Where were you -- where were you feeling about midnight?
HARRIS WILBANKS: What was that?
MOLINEAUX: How were you feeling about midnight, tonight?
HARRIS WILBANKS: About midnight I was probably at the lowest point I've ever been in my life. I went to bed about midnight and I actually was asleep when John called. I had not slept very much in the last three days and I actually fell asleep and then I got a call from John. I couldn't hardly -- he was so excited (INAUDIBLE) I couldn't hardly understand what he was saying and all I could -- all I heard was, she's alive, she's called. And I said, "Where is she?" He said, I don't know, she's at a payphone somewhere and he said something about cutting her hair, I couldn't get any sense out that, I said, I hung up the phone, I said, "I'm on my way."
MOLINEAUX: Did you talk to Jennifer?
HARRIS WILBANKS: I talked to her when I got down here. Yeah, I got to talk to her just briefly. She was, of course, she was very emotional.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well actually, we've got Harris Wilbanks here, this Jennifer's father and it has been a hellacious few days for him, as you can imagine, thank you so much for being with us.
(END VIDEO CLIP) MOLINEAUX: Well, as you've been seeing, live, that raw video there of Harris Wilbanks, this is Jennifer's father, who's now planning the trip out to Albuquerque for a reunion with Jennifer. Her parents, as well as her fiance, John Mason. It's been a wild few days and finally word that she is going to be OK.
And Tony, I don't know how of these stories you have covered, but that is not very often that we see a happy ending for one of these and low and behold, this wedding is going to be happening, after all, it was scheduled for today. Of course, the wedding was going to become, well, a vigil, for Jennifer, this evening, now there will be a wedding, after all, although it's probably not going to be today and probably going to be an awful lot bigger then anticipated because a lot more friends and, well, loved one who've suddenly come together to make this happen, and a lot of people are now invested in this very happy situation.
HARRIS: Well, Charles, to answer your first question, quite a few of these stories, and my friend, we've worked on a few of these together, you'll remember. I've go to ask you.
I've got to ask you, just a, just an observation, looking at Harris, Jennifer's father, and I've got to say, that for the most part, this has been a -- an amazingly composed, united family. Did you notice that same thing? Both sides of this family.
MOLINEAUX: Very much so. The -- they put forward a very brave, very composed face, especially yesterday afternoon, we heard that the police were calling off the search, the family announced $100,000 reward for information. There was a quiet desperation to this, but also a lot of strength. Very much this family was very clearly pulling together, you could see it in them, they were turning to each other, there were a lot of hugs, a lot of handholding. And since the news got out that Jennifer is OK, we saw more of that, more hugs, more tears, very much a presence of their congregations, their churches, their faith, that is obviously very clearly a part of this situation for this family. A lot of what has sustained them over the course of some very difficult hours, and now, of course, the focus of all of their excitement, as well.
And yeah there's going to be some big celebrations going on over the next couple of days and starting in Albuquerque, New Mexico a little later today. The family's expected to fly out there about 11:00 Eastern time, this morning, and they are getting packed right now, in the house and getting ready to go.
HARRIS: All right, Charles, well said thank you.
NGUYEN: You know, this family has been on an emotional rollercoaster. Today, of course, they are very elated, very happy that she has been found alive, but we spoke with some family members and around midnight Eastern, last night, Jennifer's cousin, or a I should say, stepbrother, Jay Parrish, said that he basically lost hope, but then things turned around. Around 1:40 Eastern time, Jennifer Wilbanks, herself, called home and she spoke with her stepfather, Roger Parrish. Here's how that conversation played out. (BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
ROGER PARRISH, JENNIFER'S STEPFATHER: Jennifer honey, where are you? There's no doubt in mind who it was, for the last 20 years I've talked to her on the telephone crying, not all the time, I'm sorry, but she been a lot of calls, as a kid, you know, "come get me, I want to come home," or whatever. Anyway, I had to try to get my nieces attention to go get John up so that he could talk to her while call 911 and I asked a lot of questions. She didn't know where she was. I said, "Honey, what do you see." She said, "I see Domino's Pizza," crying all this time, and trying to get her to help me and locate where she. She said she was at a convenient store. I asked her the name of the street, she said she can't see it.
But anyway, John come in. I said Jennifer, here's John, I said, "talk to him now." So he started talking to her and I called 911 and they got Chief Belcher in here, I think he sleeps in his clothes. He was here in no time. And we started tracing, Chief Belcher started (INAUDIBLE) tracing the call and he had her on the line, then and she, at the telephone, and I was still on 911, they were trying to get the call traced and, of course they said could trace it because it was a payphone.
But anyway, all this happened, the first thing came says it's New Mexico, and then we were able to find out it was Albuquerque, then we got a street name. Had the police sent out, and by then I had the telephone back and I said, "Jennifer, honey, the police are coming, stay with me now." And she did, and she said -- I said, "You see them yet?" She said, "Yeah, their up there, they're getting back in the vehicle," I assumed they pulled up to the convenient store. I said, "Don't drop it, honey, stay with me until they get right down you with you," so, and they did. And, they've taken her, the FBI also came up, and of course, they took her. As far as we know, you know, the naturally thing they do, they take them to the hospital and get her checked out and all that, and all I can tell you is that we're leaving here at 11:00 and going and getting her.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
NGUYEN: And just imagine what the reunion is going to be like. Today, Jennifer was supposed to be married and in fact, Pastor Alan Jones was going to be there at that wedding and he was going to be administering those wedding vows to both John Mason and Jennifer Wilbanks, and we don't know if that wedding exactly is going to take place today, it's probably going to take a lolled more time, there's a lot to be sorted out, but they, indeed, will be married. Let's talk to Mr. Alan Jones the pastor who is going to take place in that wedding.
Charles Molineaux has the latest on that -- Charles.
MOLINEAUX: Yeah, Pastor Jones, of course, was going to be presiding over the wedding over the wedding, instead he ended up being a lot of spiritual support for the family as they anxiously waited for word on Jennifer. Pastor Jones is with us right now. How has it been over the past few days? Obviously you were probably in the process of polishing up your sermon for the wedding. Then what happened?
REV. ALAN JONES, PEACHTREE CORNERS BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, it was just a rollercoaster of emotions. A family, who I had never met, besides John and Jennifer, became very close to me, and you know, we grieved together, we laughed together, and now we're celebrating together.
MOLINEAUX: How has it been with John, the one that you actually been dealing with, the one you knew, as he has gone though this, including a little suspicion?
JONES: Well, the suspicion bothered us and we just continued to pray for him, encourage him, counsel him to be calm and let them see who the real John Mason was.
MOLINEAUX: What happens now to the wedding?
JONES: Well, we've always used the word "postpone," so now we're going to postpone it. And when everybody's settled down, we'll reset a date and have a wedding and I'll probably change the ceremony a little bit.
MOLINEAUX: What happens when you have a something like this come along? All of a sudden, you're not just going to be the pastor of the wedding, presiding over a big happy event, suddenly you're the rock that some people are clinging to. What do you do? What happens?
JONES: I really don't know. I'm not even a senior pastor, I'm an associate pastor, and John had worked for me in my department, so I'm just honored to be a part of this with them and we'll go day by day and have a good time with them.
MOLINEAUX: What were you saying to them over the course of the past few days as they came to you and said, here's what's going on. Surly you must say, I got to step up to the plate.
JONES: I did, I -- I said, let's don't give up hope, we prayed strongly for a miracle. We use the word miracle a lot, and I told them a lot of jokes. I tried to keep it light, there.
MOLINEAUX: Deacon Will Barnett, you've been watching this happen, as well. What has it been like in this congregation as you go from preparing for a wedding to thinking the worst and now preparing for a wedding again.
DEACON WILL BARNETT, PEACHTREE CORNERS BAPTIST CHURCH: Well, our role here is to support our fiends John and Jennifer, but also as deacons my brothers here are here to support our associate pastor, Alan Jones, and our senior pastor. We're here to pray, we're here to support, we're here to be in the background and do whatever the family needs. The bottom line is for god to get the glory here, and god well get the glory here, because he's provided a miracle. But, we're just here to make sure our pastor is, our associate pastor here, is able to do his job and support the family. And that's what we're about.
MOLINEAUX: Pastor Barnett (sic), what is this wedding going to look like now, do you think?
JONES: Probably a fiasco. It was already going to be a very large wedding, very large wedding, but I'm sure all of Duluth and part of the world will turn out and support them.
MOLINEAUX: Jennifer's father saying maybe you can't have it in the church; it's going to have to be in the town square. How's it going to look?
JONES: It will be beautiful; it'll be a great -- a great celebration.
MOLINEAUX: Has this family grown an awful lot in the past few days?
JONES: Absolutely, I have seen the two families just gel as one family. Jennifer's family never suspected John, they were his best encouragers, even in the tough times.
MOLINEAUX: Pastor Will Barnett (sic) with the Peachtree Corners Baptist Church which has been at the center of this, again faith a very part -- a very big part of this story for both of the families, and now going forward again. Postponed, the wedding is going to be, but it is going forward, we'll not have that grim vigil this evening, but instead a joyous celebration and a wedding, eventually -- Tony.
NGUYEN: Thank you Charles, in fact, Deacon Will Barnett called it a "miracle." A lot of faith went into this. And we want to get you an update on the investigation. All the questions that surround the disappearance, the fact that she called home, she is alive. Jennifer Wilbanks, she is alive, but there are many questions surrounding all of this and we hope to get some answers to that in about four minutes, because the Albuquerque Police Department along with the FBI will be holding a news conference. When that happens, we will take it live. But say tuned, we have more coverage of this story, this amazing story, right here on CNN SUNDAY MORNING. We're going to take a quick break.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN BREAKING NEWS.
NGUYEN: Well, good morning and welcome back. We have been in continuing coverage since 3:00 a.m. this morning because a missing bride-to-be has been found on, of all days, her wedding day. Jennifer Wilbanks was found alive this morning. In fact, she made a phone call to her parents in Georgia, Duluth, Georgia around 1:40 Eastern time, telling them that she is OK, a little shooken up, she was cold and she was really distraught about the whole situation. She didn't know exactly where she was, but she was in Albuquerque, New Mexico, of all places. HARRIS: And, I got to tell you that in just a couple of minutes, we're standing by, waiting for a news conference to be held, and we're going to get more information about this investigation and the discover and recover of Jennifer Wilbanks. We're expecting it any moment, now. A news conference from Albuquerque, New Mexico, the police and the FBI.
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