WASHINGTON COUNTY, Utah (ABC4 News) — The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is now revealing the findings of a criminal investigation into Holly Courtier, the California woman who spent 12 days inside the desolate vastness of Zion National Park.
In an exclusive interview with ABC4 News, Lt. David Crouse said investigators did not look into the circumstances surrounding her mysterious disappearance.
“People are wanting to know how or why it happened,” Crouse said. “We pointed out that it was not a typical circumstance.”
Instead, sheriff’s officials focused their investigation on whether Courtier’s disappearance was a part of an elaborate GoFundMe fraud scheme, as the widely circulating rumors and tips claimed.
“We never found any evidence to support any of the claims that any criminal activity took place,” Crouse said. “There was a lot of miscommunication, speculation, and sometimes it came to not having all the facts.”
The 38-year-old Woodland Hills mother still has not broken her silence since she was found by Zion Search and Rescue team members on Oct. 18 approximately half a mile from where she was last seen in the Grotto parking area.
Embarking on a spiritual journey, Courtier left California 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, according to her family.
By the time rescuers found her, Courtier had lost 18 pounds and had “bruises all over her body,” her family said. She was hungry, dehydrated, and weakened near a river contaminated by a toxic algae bloom.
“She was very disoriented and very dizzy,” Jaime Strong, Courtier’s sister, told ABC News. “I think she bit off more than she could chew. She definitely thought she could fast longer than she could.”
Her family said Courtier suffered a concussion while setting up her hammock along the river, becoming so disoriented she couldn’t call for help or “take more than a few steps without collapsing.” A Zion official told ABC4 News that Courtier was able to leave the park with her family with minimal assistance.
“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.”
In an interview with ABC4 News on Oct. 20, liaison of the sheriff’s search and rescue Sgt. Darrell Cashin commented on the circumstances of Courtier’s recovery that were inconsistent with his 25 years of training and experience. Cashin said his crews provided some K-9 assets and several of their highly trained investigators reviewed the park’s entire search and rescue efforts, including maps, credible tips, and surveillance footage from nearby businesses.
“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 said. “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.”
Cashin says it’s a “high possibility” Courtier would have died if she was drinking the river water for 12 days. Without any water, she would have died within two to three days, he says.
“If she’s by the Virgin River, she’s down in the valley, not in the backcountry up in the plateaus and the peaks,” Cashin said. “She’s in that main part of the canyon, which always has thousands of people walking up and down those trails. I’m sure people walked by yelling for her.”
“The statements that the family is giving and the statements that the park is giving don’t add up,” Cashin added. “Those are the types of questions I think everybody has. I think the place where that question can be answered is with her.”
In response to Cashin’s statements, the Courtier family clarified Holly did not drink the river water due to the toxicity levels. 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 an MRI or CAT scan.
As to what exactly happened to Courtier during those 12 days and why, the sheriff’s office said it didn’t believe it was their role to uncover.
“Could we have possibly figured out how it happened? I believe we could if we answered all the questions,” Crouse said. “However, I don’t think it would’ve been an ethical use of taxpayer money for us to actually investigate it. It’s not a crime, and it’s not under our jurisdiction, so we ended it where we did.”
A Zion official told ABC4 News on Thursday the park’s final report will be made public “as soon as possible.”