From a prison cell in Venezuela to an Oval Office encounter with the president to a hospital room, the past two days have been a whirlwind for Josh Holt. If things go as planned, he’ll be back in Utah on Tuesday, where family, friends and neighbors are waiting to celebrate his return after nearly two years of punishing incarceration.
Holt and Thamara “Thamy” Caleno had just wed in 2016 when Venezuelan police arrested them on charges of holding weapons of war, which American officials say were planted by corrupt police officers for political reasons. On Saturday, Holt, who is from Riverton, and Thamy were released and, along with Thamy’s daughter, Marian, were flown to Washington, D.C., where they were welcomed by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, among others who had long pressed for their freedom; later they met with President Donald Trump.
The Holts, who had both suffered injuries while imprisoned, were undergoing medical care Sunday at Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., just outside Washington.
“Josh and Thamy and Marian are … in the hospital still currently. They will hopefully be released tomorrow We are being told,” Holt’s mother, Laurie, wrote in a Facebook post. “We want to come home as soon as possible. At this time we are looking to return on Tuesday.”
Visitors were restricted to family and staffers for Hatch — the Utah Republican lunched with the family Sunday — as the Holts adjusted to life outside prison. The couple, a bit whiplashed from finding themselves whisked away from Venezuela and plopped down next to the president for a nationally broadcast news conference, were trying to ease back into freedom.
The State Department and Department of Defense, which has honed post-captivity counseling since the Vietnam War, were helping the couple, and a slew of doctors were conducting tests. The doctors were keeping the couple an extra day to ensure they were healthy enough to return home.
Meanwhile, family, friends and well-wishers back in Riverton were preparing to celebrate the Holts’ return.
With the help of city officials, Holt’s brother Derek organized an event where community members on Sunday evening tied green ribbons — Holt’s favorite color — on trees and light posts on 12600 South, “which is kind of the gateway of our city,” Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs said.
Staggs added it was just a small gesture intended “to make sure he’s as comfortable as possible” upon his arrival.
“They’re just an incredible family. Before I was elected mayor, I served on the City Council and this was my district. There are so many members of the community that love and support this family. We want a strong show of support for when they get home,” Staggs said of the Holts. “I don’t think many of us can understand what he went through, though I can imagine what he thought — that maybe many people out there didn’t think his was an important story. Us being his hometown, we want to let him know we always knew this was a big deal.”
Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also welcomed the Holts home. Holt, a former LDS missionary, met his wife online when he was looking for someone to practice his Spanish with.
“We are grateful to hear the news that Josh, Thamy and their families will be reunited,” Hawkins said. “We are thankful that the prayers of so many have been answered.”
In an interview with KUTV-Ch. 2 aired Sunday evening, Jason Holt, Josh’s dad, expressed gratitude for all the efforts made to get his son released.
“He wasn’t a hero in the Middle East, he was a normal guy,” Jason Holt said, “but the government stood beside him and worked and worked and worked to get him out.”
Laurie Holt added in the same interview that she got the good news in a phone call about 4:30 a.m. Saturday, with instructions to “get to D.C. as soon as possible.”
Even in that moment, though, her relief wasn’t yet totally complete.
“Until I actually knew he was in the air, I was nervous,” she said.