The Washington County Sheriff’s office has opened an investigation into the 12-day disappearance of Holly Suzanne Courtier in Zion National Park.
Courtier, 38, was found alive in the Utah national park on October 18, 12 days after she had last been seen on a private shuttle bus arriving to a parking lot near trailheads. Since her rescue, the circumstances of her disappearance have come under heavy scrutiny as park and law enforcement officials have raised questions about how she was able to survive on her own for nearly two weeks. Courtier’s family members have insisted that Courtier was in grave physical condition when she was rescued, though Zion National Park’s Acting Chief of Interpretation Amanda Rowland told Fox News that Courtier “was able to leave of her own capability with minimal assistance” following her rescue.
As KSL reports, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office announced in a news release earlier this week that it would be opening an investigation in response to numerous tips “indicating the incident was possibly conceived and carried out as part of a plan to fraudulently generate money to a GoFundMe account for Courtier’s recovery.”
The GoFundMe campaign launched on October 15 by one of Courtier’s sisters raised nearly $12,000 before it closed to new donations. The latest update on the fundraiser page states that “the intent of Holly’s GoFundMe has always been to aid the search and recovery efforts as well as post recovery care.”
Before Courtier was found, her daughter Kailey Chambers told KABC that her mother had lost her job as a nanny due to the coronavirus pandemic, and had chosen to take the unexpected time off to travel the U.S. and visit national parks. The daughter also said that she and her mother, who both live in southern California, had visited Zion National Park together the previous month.
Courtier’s family members, who together have given several media interviews as Courtier herself has refrained from public comment, have at times appeared to contradict each other, including in statements about how Courtier survived and her condition prior to arriving to the park. The day after Courtier was rescued, her daughter told CNN that Courtier became disoriented after hitting her head on a tree, and chose to stay near a water source — the Virgin River — believing it was her best chance of survival. After Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Sgt. Darrel Cashin noted in an interview with local media that the water in the Virgin River is toxic and unsafe to drink, Courtier’s sister said that the earlier statement was not meant to imply that Courtier drank water from the Virgin River. The sister said that Courtier knew the water was toxic, and only took river water to wet her dry mouth before spitting it back out.
Courtier’s sister also said that she had been fasting prior to the start of her trip, suggesting that the lack of food intake, which Courtier had reportedly planned to continue during her hiking trip, caused her disorientation and dehydration.
According to multiple reports and family statements, Courtier did not tell her family that she was traveling to Zion. She also reportedly left her cell phone behind in California. As CrimeOnline previously reported, Courtier’s roommate reported her missing on October 8. It appears that investigators were able to trace Courtier to Zion National Park through her use of a credit card to purchase a private shuttle ticket.
In the news release, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office reiterated an earlier statement that the department was “only involved in a consultation role [in the missing persons investigation]. We fully support the findings of the National Park Service investigation and believe their investigation into the incident was thorough and well executed.”
“Despite the thorough investigation conducted by the National Park Service, Utah State Code does not grant them the authority to investigate violations of Utah law,” the release continued. “Based on our local authority and jurisdiction, the Sheriff’s Office had an obligation to the public to investigate the criminal allegations which were being presented.”
The sheriff’s office said in the news release that investigators had not at that time found any “evidence to support the theory that the incident was committed intentionally as an effort to achieve financial gain.” A request for further comment was not immediately returned.
Anyone with information is urged to contact the Washington County Sheriff’s office via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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