INVESTIGATORS are looking to see if a 38-year-old Los Angeles mom who went missing for 12 days actually staged the ordeal in an elaborate scheme to raise money on GoFundMe.
The Washington County Sheriff's Office in Utah is investigating Holly Suzanne Courtier's disappearance while hiking in Zion National Park, cautioning the office had not gathered enough evidence to support their allegation she attempted to defraud the public.
A GoFundMe started by her sister Jaime Strong raised close to $12,000 before it was deactivated.
Strong's original post, written on October 15, says the money raised from the GoFundMe will be used to reimburse hotel and car rental expenses for family and friends who went on the searching expedition, as well as for Holly's medical care.
However, Utah authorities launched an investigation into Courtier's disappearance after determining her story had "discrepancies and questions that do not add up."
The Washington County Sheriff's Office said it received "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."
"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 sheriff's department press release reads.
"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," it continued.
"At this point in the investigation, there has been no evidence to support the theory that the incident was committed intentionally as an effort to achieve financial gain," it concluded.
Courtier's disappearance came after the California resident was dropped off at the Grotto Picnic Area by a private shuttle and did not return on October 6.
A massive search effort went underway as K-9 units were deployed as well as drones and search and rescue teams.
On October 18, she was found by park rangers half a mile from where she was dropped off after park rangers received a tip from a hiker.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office sergeant Darrell Cashin said their search and rescue teams "went above and beyond" in locating Courtier, adding "They even had GPS tracks of every trail, every part of the backcountry, and every valley they searched."
"They had everything about Holly they possibly could’ve gotten to give an indication of what her behavior was like and where she might have gone," he said. "Understand, there's a lot of country up there. If you go off-trail, it will be virtually impossible to find somebody unless they want to be found."
Cashin went on to describe the landscape and what teams had to deal with, thinking if she was near the trails, "I’m sure people walked by yelling for her."
After reading a CNN interview with Courtier's 19-year-old daughter, Cashin had doubts about Courtier's story.
Kailey Chambers, Courter's daughter, told CNN "she injured her head on a tree. She was very disoriented as a result and thankfully ended up near a water source, a river bed. She thought her best chance of survival was to stay next to a water source."
"She was too weak and disoriented" to get help, Chambers said, adding her mom didn't have food on her when she went missing. "She was unable to take more than a step or two without collapsing."
"This prevented her from being able to seek out help. She told me she was so dehydrated she couldn't open her mouth," Chambers ended.
However, Cashin said the claims led to his doubts, saying the only source of water in the park is the Virgin River, toxic due to the numerous parasites inhabiting the water, saying park officials in July warned visitors to avoid contact with the water because of its high concentrations of cyanobacteria.
Cashin said she would have died if she relied on that water for 12 days. "If she had been drinking that water, unless she had some really high immune system, she would’ve been very, very ill and probably unable to come out on her own," Cashin said.
"She either took a lot of water with her or had another clean water source that was near here, but the Virgin River is not that source," he said, adding she would have died within two or three days without water.
Cashin also question Courtier's daughter's claims that she hit her head. "If we had found somebody in that condition with that kind of severe head injury, we would have at minimum called for a transport agency to check her out."
"The fact that that didn’t happen tells me that they did not find any significant injury to her that would’ve prompted them to do that," he continued.
"Physically, she seemed to be in a condition that did not warrant an ambulance and they felt was comfortable to release her to her family to address," he ended.
Zion National Park officials said Courtier was able to walk on her own power with minimal assistance.
Her family however say Courtier looked disheveled, was a few pounds lighter, and had a concussion, kidney failure, foot injuries and suffered from severe dehydration.
Courtier, who lost her job as a nanny due to the coronavirus pandemic, left her cellphone behind without telling her family where she was going when she left home two weeks earlier.
"She definitely was having a mental breakdown," her sister Strong said.
"She told us later she was seeking a total disconnect from everything. She really just wanted to be alone," Strong continued. "She had no idea it would turn into anything it would turn into or the worry she would cause or what it would become."
Since her discovery, Courtier has checked herself into a mental wellness center in California.
"We understand many of you have questions regarding Holly’s search and rescue," Strong updated the since-deactivated GoFundMe.
"Holly has suffered from mental health issues in the past and went on her hike not in the best frame of mind. She did not intend to become injured or so weak on her journey," Strong wrote. "Nor, did she intend for her trip to become a search and rescue effort."
"If Holly was not found when she was, she would have died," it ended.
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