For the first time, the "runaway bride," who made headlines around the world, is telling her side of the story. Jennifer Wilbanks, who is currently undergoing treatment at a facility in the Atlanta area, is still coming to terms with her past and her decision to run away just four days before her wedding. But Wilbanks insists her disappearance had little to do with the wedding itself. NBC’s Katie Couric sat down with Wilbanks and her fiancé John Mason for an exclusive interview.
The wedding was supposed to be a huge event, with more than 600 invited guests.
Katie Couric: Did you feel tremendous pressure during that period of time?
Jennifer Wilbanks: I didn't feel pressure. What I want to make clear is that no one — my family, John's family — were pressuring us into having this big wedding. My parents gave us the choice. If you want to, you know, go somewhere, have a smaller wedding, we'll give you the money. It was exactly what I wanted.
But as the wedding drew closer, Wilbanks became more emotionally distraught. The problem was, no one knew it — not even her fiancé.
Couric: John, you had these long conversations with Jennifer. Did you ever see any sign that she was in so much pain?
John Mason: Not so much pain. I saw some things in her that I just thought were male, female differences. But nothing, no, nothing like that.
Couric: Did you ever talk to anyone, Jennifer, about how you were feeling? It sounds as if you've got great friends because they certainly came out in droves when you disappeared. And a loving family.
Wilbanks: I'm very lucky; I have wonderful friends and a wonderful family. And I feel guilty because they're upset, they feel like they didn't recognize, or they didn't make me feel as though I could come to them. But, you know, what I'm going to say to those people is, it's not their fault. I wouldn't have come to you under any circumstances. No matter what.
Wilbanks talked about the night she told John she was going for a run but ended up traveling to the other side of the country on a Greyhound bus. She claims it was a matter of life or death.
We talked about the search, the concocted abduction story, and the fact that somehow John Mason is still standing by her side.
Couric: John, a columnist wrote, "What happened to John Mason is like having a transmission fall out of a used car while you're test-driving it. Too bad all those gaskets and gears laying in the highway failed to deter the man who still went to court with this woman, wagging tail, wet nose and all."
Mason: What does that mean?
Couric: Some people have said this guy is an idiot, basically.
Mason: Yeah, I've heard that.
Couric: He's a fool. When you hear those things, does it make your blood boil?
Mason: Not really. I just let it go in one ear and out the other.
Wilbanks: Aren't there any hopeless romantics left? There is such a thing as true love.
Mason: I just know what I feel led to do. And that's what I do every day. I pray every morning before I leave the house — "God, show me what to do. What am I doing today? Tell me if I'm not doing what you want me to be doing," and then I just do it.
I stick to my convictions, and I feel right now I'm supposed to be with her, helping her get through this. I haven't even doubted that for one second.
Couric: This story captured national attention like few do. And I'm sure you have read all sorts of things that are completely untrue. What is the biggest misconception, you think, out there, about the two of you as a couple or individually, that you'd like to clarify right here, right now?
Wilbanks: Well, first of all, I haven't read any of the newspapers. Part of that was that my parents wouldn't allow me. John wouldn't allow me, because they were trying to protect me, especially in the beginning when things were really…
Wilbanks: Really negative. But I, well, I did see one little excerpt, and it just broke my heart.
Couric: What's been the most hurtful thing you've heard?
Mason: One of the stories is she was running to go see another guy. That was hard for me to swallow.
Wilbanks: That was absolutely not true.
Mason: And there was another article in one of the tabloids that said she'd been engaged three or four times and yada, yada, yada, and all this stuff. And now, wait a minute, I thought she was only engaged one time and we talked all about it. And unfortunately, a lot of people believe this stuff that they're reading, no matter where they're reading it from. And that's been hard for me.