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It seemed like a miracle when a California woman, who ostensibly went missing for nearly two weeks while hiking in Utah's Zion National Park, reappeared with a harrowing tale of survival. But now authorities are questioning her story.
It’s highly improbable, according to rescue officials, that Holly Suzanne Courtier, sustained herself for 12 days without food and little water in the southwest Utah wilderness.
Authorities were particularly suspicious surrounding the 38-year-old’s alleged claims that she ingested water from the Virgin River, which they know to be toxic, according to local station KTVX-TV.
“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,” Washington County Sgt. Darrell Cashin told the ABC News affiliate. “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.”
Courtier's sister, Jaime Strong, clarified to TODAY that Courtier had not, in fact, consumed the toxic water from the Virgin River.
"She was very well aware of the toxins in the river," Strong said. "There was a statement made that she said she set up camp because she wanted to stay close to the river, but we were never implying that she drank the water."
However, Cashin, who assisted in the search for Courtier, was also skeptical that the California woman didn’t come across any rescue teams or outdoor enthusiasts for the nearly two-week period. He said the area is a popular destination for hikers.
“They even had GPS tracks of every trail, every part of the backcountry, and every valley they searched,” Cashin told the station. “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.”
Cashin added that search and rescue teams who scoured the rugged terrain of Zion National Park “went above and beyond.”
Courtier, who was last seen in a parking lot of the national park on Oct. 6, later turned up approximately half a mile away earlier this week, according to KTVX-TV. Courtier and her family have said she suffered a severe head injury during her ordeal.
“She injured her head on a tree,” her daughter Kailey Chambers told KWCH-DT. “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.”
However, Cashin told KTVX-TV that Courtier didn't appear to be seriously hurt and was able to walk out of the park on her own. She also didn't require an ambulance once found, he noted.
“The statements that the family is giving and the statements that the park is giving don’t add up,” Cashin said. “Those are the types of questions I think everybody has. I think the place where that question can be answered is with her.”
However, relatives, including Courtier’s sister, Jillian Courtier-Oliver, maintained the 38-year-old was malnourished and had “bruises all over her body.”
Strong also said that her sister's story of survival had been "twisted." She specifically pushed back on authorities' statement that Courtier hadn't required medical attention at the scene.
"She was very scared and traumatized, and she wanted to leave the park in my car with me and my husband and her daughter, and we drove her straight to the emergency room, so things have just been twisted," she told TODAY.
Courtier, who is from Los Angeles, is a nanny, her family said, according to CNN. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, she found herself unemployed, and embarked on a spiritual cross country journey to a number of national parks.
Strong described the trip as a "journey of fasting," but said her sister wasn't in a good "mental state" when she embarked on it.
"I really think she had a mental breakdown and was not in the right state of mind when she decided to take this journey and not tell people where she was going," Strong said.
Courtier has since checked into a mental wellness facility, her sister said.
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