Holly Courtier planned to go on spiritual journey, fast inside Zion National Park, family says

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ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah (ABC4 News, ABC News) — The sister of the missing hiker who survived 12 days in Zion National Park without any food or water said her survival is “nothing short of a miracle.”

38-year old Holly Courtier, the Woodland Hills mom who went missing inside the Zion National Park on Oct. 6, has checked herself into a mental health facility to process some trauma she “has not dealt with” for several years, her family told ABC News.

41-year-old Jaime Strong, one of Holly’s sisters, said that Courtier had likely suffered a mental breakdown and had planned to go on a spiritual journey while eating no food or water for a couple of days inside the national park.

“I think she went in there mentally wanting to be there, and then I think she was stuck in there physically,” Strong said. “She was in over her head and had no way to get out.”

Strong said that she doesn’t feel the incident was a “cry for help,” but rather a series of “bad choices that just went horribly wrong.” The sister confirmed that Holly had left the park in the middle of the night and did not tell her family where was going, planning to disconnect from technology, pray and read the Bible, and fast.

“She wanted to go on a spiritual journey and had planned it out and decided to do it,” Strong said.

Her family said that Holly was in the middle of a dry fast and had not eaten for several days prior to her arriving at the park. After over-exerting herself on the first day while going on a hike, the family said she suffered a concussion while setting up her hammock along the Virgin River and could not call for help.

“When she was setting up her hammock between two trees, I guess there was a stump behind with a very sharp tree edge on it,” Strong said. “I guess when she sat into her hammock and kind of swung back, she hit her head very hard on the sharp edge of the tree.” 

“She was very disoriented and very dizzy,” Strong added. “I think she bit off more than she could chew. She definitely thought she could fast longer than she could.”

Courtier was allegedly unaware that there were search parties looking for her and signs posted throughout the park because she was disoriented, the family said. Courtier kept track of the number of days she was lost by writing them in black marker on a tree, per a photo provided to ABC News.

Strong said the family took Courtier to the emergency room and a doctor allegedly diagnosed her with a concussion, although the family said Holly had decided to forgo a MRI or CAT scan. The family said Courtier had lost approximately 18 pounds while out in the wilderness.

The family’s statement comes after Sgt. Darrell Cashin, the liaison of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue for the past nine years and an advanced EMT, spoke out Tuesday about several discrepancies he says he sees between Zion National Park’s and the family’s statements.

Cashin says it’s a “high possibility” Courtier would have died if she was drinking the river water for 12 days amid a toxic algal bloom detected in the north fork of the Virgin River in early July. Without any water, she would have died within two to three days, he says.

“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.”

Strong told ABC News her sister was unable to call for help because she was so dehydrated she couldn’t open her mouth and did not drink the river water. The family did not specify how Courtier was able to survive for 12 days without water.

Cashin also raised questions regarding Courtier’s head injury as Zion National Park officials reported Courtier was able to leave on her own with minimal assistance and was released directly to her family.

“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,” Cashin says. “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.”

“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,” Cashin added.

Amanda Rowland, chief of interpretation at Zion National Park, told ABC4 News the final investigative report on the Courtier Search and Rescue (SAR) will be made public, although it’s unclear exactly when it will be released. ABC4 News requested a copy of the final investigative report from the U.S. Department of the Interior through the Freedom of Information Act.

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