In 1938 Orson Welles had a brainstorm; announce an alien invasion of the world utilizing a common practice for radio news. The entire broadcast would be written to mimic newsbreaks in the scheduled programming, even to the point that an actor using the voice of Franklin D. Roosevelt, would comment on the invasion.
And Welles plan only worked too well. Within minutes of going on the air, the radio station was bombarded with calls. Police were called out to protect the public from the invaders, and in every part of America there were instances of panic " many of which resulted in near suicide.
The broadcast resulted in regulations calling for periodic station identifications and requiring that the public be warned so that the events of Oct. 30, 1938 would not be repeated.
Panic can cause a person who is already mentally unstable to do some very strange things without realizing it. From the interview that Jennifer Wilbanks gave recently on television, we are expected to believe that panic caused a mentally unstable bride to run away from her wedding. Yet the actions taken by Wilbanks, in her own words, reveal a premeditated joy-ride before her wedding rather than a state of panic.
By definition, panic is a sudden overpowering fright which causes unreasonable reaction. It occurs to me that this brides actions were neither sudden nor unreasonable, and left me wondering just how lucky a bride can become.
She collected money from various sources before that night, and then bought a bus ticket to Austin, Texas. She purposely told her fianc that she was going for a short run when she instead was running to meet a taxicab that then took her to the bus station. After fleeing in a panic, Wilbanks changed direction several times by buying tickets to other cities. Finally, after spending the last of her funds for a ticket to Albuquerque, she called 911 and reported that she had been kidnapped and sexaully assaulted by a Hispanic man and a white woman. This story later was found to be concocted by the young lady at the moment.
The town of Duluth, Ga., had also gone into a panic by the time the truth was uncovered. Just as Orson Welles dramatic production fit the environment of the times, Wilbanks story seemed all too plausible for an American public that has been bombarded with stories of child kidnappings, molestations and murder. The lines between fiction and reality were blurred, and the public was all too ready to believe that Wilbanks could have been kidnapped. Police, volunteers and rescue services spent three days searching. These concerned citizens spent days in the field looking for her and handing out flyers, hours taken away from their own families, with untold agony and stress as they wondered what had happened. Volunteers also, in a very practical view, were ignoring their private businesses and denying income to their families.
More than $43,000 was spent in the search, of which she has paid back $13,250. After Wilbanks pleaded no contest to a felony charge, the court ordered her to get mental treatment and pay an additional $2,500. It treated her as a First Offender, meaning instead of serving time in prison she will serve two years on probation and perform community service.
The image of a kidnapped and assaulted bride has so infatuated the public that a movie producer decided to cash in on the fascination by agreeing to pay Wilbanks more than $500,000 for her story. There is nothing legally wrong with Wilbanks acceptance of the contract. However, the manner in which she showed complete disregard for her community during this episode certainly warrant some demonstration of her newly found sense of responsibility.
While Georgias own version of the Son of Sam law would divert any profit from the proposed movie to victims, it has not been indicated that this law will be imposed or is applicable " meaning that Wilbanks will reap the full $500,000 for committing a felony. One can only hope that if she has accepted responsibility as her lawyer has stated, she should be prepared to pay the city complete restitution for its citizens coming to her aid when they perceived she was in danger. Let her now take action for the true victims of her crime " the concerned citizens of Duluth.
(Dennis Jones is a Martinez resident.)
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