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They searched woods and alleys, crawled in sewage drains and stayed up late looking for a local woman who went missing four days before her wedding.
When residents of this Atlanta suburb learned that Jennifer Wilbanks ran away because she had cold feet, they thanked God she was safe — then shook their heads at her act. (Related story: Bride found in New Mexico, fabricated kidnap story)
"I'm glad that she's alive and OK, but it was a dirty trick," said Louise McCoy, waiting in line at the Duluth post office on the day Wilbanks was supposed to be married in a lavish ceremony that included 14 bridesmaids and 14 groomsmen.
Moments after the word came Saturday that Wilbanks, 32, fled town and hadn't been kidnapped, most of the police who'd been guarding her house since Tuesday night pulled away. Fliers with Wilbanks' picture were pulled down from local store windows. Some residents removed yellow ribbons they'd put on their mailboxes
her family posted a $100,000 reward for her return or the arrest and conviction of those responsible for her disappearance.
Counselors: Stress Got to Runaway Bride
Experts Say Behavior of Runaway Bride Is Extreme Yet Understandable Reaction to Wedding Stress
Marriage counselors say Wilbanks' actions are an extreme but understandable reaction to the stress of the wedding and the fear of disappointing others by backing out.
"Sometimes it's like being stuck in a river getting whisked over a waterfall," said Dr. Charles Raison, a psychiatrist and Emory University instructor who has counseled people about marital concerns. "The current is so strong, you can't fight it."
Shame about canceling a wedding at the last minute can lead to feelings of helplessness, counselors say.
"They've committed themselves out there in public, to their partner, their minister, their community, their friends while they've been perhaps nursing some ambivalence, mixed feelings and they feel isolated without being able to share it with anyone," said marriage counselor Andrew Gee. "It's like they've committed themselves to a course of action they're not comfortable with. That would be a nightmare to me."