DULUTH, Ga. – A lavish wedding with 600 guests seemed destined to become a prayer service after police called off the search Friday for a missing bride-to-be, saying they have “turned over probably every leaf in the city.”
Jennifer Carol Wilbanks disappeared Tuesday after her fiancé said she went on a jog and never came back. Hundreds of police and volunteers spent the week searching the woods of this Atlanta suburb for the nurse.
With authorities acknowledging Friday they have no solid leads, relatives offered a $100,000 reward and said wedding guests will likely still gather at the church today, but for a prayer vigil instead.
Attention in the case has now turned to fiancé John Mason, a 32-year-old office manager who teaches a Sunday school class and coaches his church’s youth basketball team. Mason has refused to take a police polygraph test except under conditions outlined by his attorney, Police Chief Randy Belcher said.
The fiancé’s lawyer turned in results from a privately administered polygraph, which family members said he passed, but Belcher said police still wanted to talk to him.
The fiancé and his lawyer have requested the police polygraph to be videotaped, something Belcher said no law enforcement agency “that’s worth anything” would do. Belcher said negotiations about the polygraph would continue.
Three computers seized at the home Thursday were being analyzed, but the police chief would not say whether they found anything useful.
Meanwhile, tearful family members gathered at the home of the soon-to-be-married couple, and were frustrated by the lack of clues. Police are testing some strands of hair and a few articles of clothing turned in, but added they had no reason to believe that any of it belonged to Wilbanks.
Wilbanks’ uncle, Mike Satterfield, said he didn’t fault police for wrapping up the search: “You can only search so much and so many times.”
The hunt for Wilbanks consumed this tight-knit town for days. Her picture and newspaper articles about her disappearance were on telephone poles and shop windows.
A friend of Wilbanks’, Killie McCauley, said the wedding was “the talk of the town.” Fourteen bridesmaids were planning to stand beside her as she married Mason, whom a friend described as “a big teddy bear.”
“He’s one of the kindest people you’ll ever meet,” said Melinda Larson, a friend of Mason’s who was planning to attend the wedding. “Jennifer had a dream of this huge, elaborate wedding, and John was so supportive.”
Mason attended a family news conference but did not talk to reporters. Satterfield, the bride’s uncle, said Mason wanted to talk but wasn’t sure what to say. “There’s not much John can say that wouldn’t make speculation worse,” Satterfield said.
Mason works at Mason Primary Care, which his family owns, said Andy Parsons, the Mason family’s management consultant.
“He is one of the most decent, upstanding Christian men I’ve ever met,” said Parsons, who meets weekly with Mason for a private Bible study session. “He’s the teacher. I’m the pupil.”
He said Mason is frightened.
“He is scared at the moment. His fiancé disappeared. He’s scared for Jennifer’s safety,” said Parsons, who has visited Mason at home since Wilbanks’ disappearance. “I would say he’s drawing on every ounce of strength that he’s got. He’s still trying to remain positive.”
After the family and police spoke with reporters Friday, police started dismantling a search center that had been set up in a strip mall parking lot about a mile from Wilbanks’ house. A mobile police unit was packed up and yellow crime tape was rolled up and put away.
Family members said they would spend the night once planned for a rehearsal dinner praying for Wilbanks.