The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the California woman who disappeared in Zion National Park for 12 days — and has raised the possibility of fraud.
Holly Courtier, 38, disappeared Oct. 6 after she was dropped off by a private shuttle bus at the Grotto park area and did not return. She was found by park rangers Oct. 18 after they were alerted by a park visitor. According to family members, Courtier hit her head and was disoriented, surviving on very little food and water as she stayed next to the Virgin River.
However, she was able to leave the park without the assistance of medical personnel, and her sister told NBC’s “Today Show” that Courtier knew the river was potentially toxic and didn’t drink from it, adding, “She said she didn’t have anything to drink at all.” Her sister also said Courtier had been fasting for two days before she entered the park.
And that raised red flags with police. Sgt. Darrell Cashin of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office told KTVX-Ch. 4 he had doubts about her story, citing “discrepancies and questions that do not add up.” According to a news release from the sheriff’s office, “These inconsistencies raised some questions as to the authenticity of the events as reported to law enforcement,” adding it “stands behind” Cashin’s “observations and statements.”
“Numerous tips have been received 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," according to police, although they have “no evidence to support the theory that the incident was committed intentionally as an effort to achieve financial gain.”
The sheriff’s office asked for members of the public to share “any credible information … based on tangible leads.” Tips should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A GoFundMe page for Courtier — whose family said she lost her job as a nanny earlier this year because of the pandemic — raised nearly $12,000 before donations were suspended by Courtier’s sister, the page organizer.
According to an Oct. 22 update on the GoFundMe page, Courtier “suffered from mental health issues in the past and went on her hike not in the best frame of mind. She did not intend ... for her trip to become a search and rescue effort. If Holly was not found when she was, she would have died.” And any money raised would be used to reimburse “the family and friends' costs” during the search and “to cover the medical care applied to Holly during her hospital stay as well as therapy costs moving forward.”
According to her sister, Courtier checked herself into a mental health wellness clinic after she was found.
Her sister also wrote that although the fundraiser “is, and always was, 100 percent legitimate,” anyone with “concerns about our use of their donation is welcome to request a refund without any objection from the family.”
The sheriff’s office also reiterated that it was only involved in the search for Courtier in a “consultation role. We fully support the findings of the National Park Service investigation and believe their investigation into the incident was thorough and well executed.” But the Park Service cannot investigate violations of Utah law, so the sheriff’s office says it has an “obligation” to investigate this case.