When Jennifer Wilbanks took off on a nearly fifteen hundred mile odyssey across country to escape her impending wedding, I sincerely doubt that she understood the panic and madness that it would cause. I sincerely don't believe she ever expected to be on CNN, to have a nation-wide search party looking for her or to be the center of a major news story. Unfortunately for her, that's exactly what happened.
However, now that the dust has settled, the manhunt called off and the truth is known, authorities and the nation at large face the difficult question of what to do with her. Police point to several laws that her feigned kidnapping broke and the city of Duluth, population barely over 20,000, wasted nearly sixty thousand dollars looking for the woman and her imaginary abductors.
However, the issues isn't as complicated as the media would like us to think it is. For, no matter how much we all find this runaway bride, so scared by her impending grand wedding that she feigned her own kidnapping, a sympathetic character, we have to take any and all appropriate action against her. Even though we've all been scared and done dumb things, the truth is those stupid decisions do carry consequences and we've all paid them. To let her off the hook because we sympathize with her not only creates a two-tier justice system, but is a slap to everyone who has paid in full.
The simple truth is that there is a right way and a wrong way to handle these types of things. Yes, calling off a grand wedding a few days before it was due to take place is a very stressful thing and a very unpopular decision, but there is an established protocol for doing it. At the very least, when she placed her now-famous call claiming to be kidnapped, she could have come clean and told the truth. Yes, people would have been angry, but at least they wouldn't have worried nor would they have involved the entire country in a massive search for her. Most importantly of all, no laws would have been broken and these lingering questions would not be hanging around.
This is a free country, even though it doesn't seem that way sometimes. In the United States, you are perfectly free to go anywhere, anytime, and to call off your wedding, no matter how grand, in the moments before. However, as a matter of courtesy, we all ask that you actually deal with the problems such a move creates and, as a matter of law, not do anything that would waste the time and resources of police and authorities.
However, the problem is that Ms. Wilbanks didn't want to deal with the consequences of her decision to call off the wedding, that's why she made up the story, and she doesn't want to deal with the natural consequences of her lies today. She's expressed only mild remorse for what she's done and the damage she's caused. After all, while police all over the country were looking for her, they could have been solving real crimes and her friends and family could have been moving on with their lives, not spending every waking moment looking for her.
She probably didn't expect this to go as far as it did, that much is certain, but she had to know that filing a false police report and making false statements to authorities are both crimes. Furthermore, even if she didn't know what the outcome would be, she had to know that some public funds would be spent finding her. Even though there's a lot wrong with this country, we're not in the habit of letting people be kidnapped without making an effort to look for them.
In the end, Ms. Wilbanks isn't a sympathetic character at all. She's a selfish woman who feigned a kidnapping because she didn't want to deal with the consequences of canceling a wedding. She wasn't responsible enough to look her friends, family and husband-to-be in the eye and tell the truth. Instead, she created a story that sparked a nationwide manhunt and news sensation. It was a poor decision, to put it mildly, but now she's trying to skirt the consequences that come with that as well.
At some point we, as a nation, have to put our foot down and make people take responsibility for their decisions, even when they don't want to. That's exactly what our legal system, both criminal and civil, is there for and it's time we used it accordingly.
If we don't, there's not much point in having it at all.