RIVERTON, Utah – Back in the living room where FOX13 first broke the story, a Utah man held as a political prisoner for two years in Venezuela shared his story with local media for the first time.
“I never once regretted marrying her and going down there, and the truth is, I’d do it again,” said Josh Holt.
Over the past two years, most Utahns have heard his name and know his story. Having just returned home from a mission in Washington, the 26-year-old struck up a conversation with a woman he met on an LDS dating website.
“I thought it was someone from a mission,” Josh said of a woman named Thamy who messaged him first. “She said, ‘No, I’m from Venezuela, and I don’t really speak English. So, it was nice meeting you.’”
Josh said she figured the language barrier would be a deal breaker.
“I was like I speak Spanish do you want to talk in Spanish? She was like yes!”
After six months, they were engaged and getting married down in Venezuela, but nothing could have prepared them for what would happen next.
“That’s when we heard the boom, boom, boom,” Josh said, describing police at his front door.
“They were going around looking for men,” Holt said. “They asked Thamy, do you have any men in the apartment and she’s like yeah, my husband and two kids are inside. They came in and looked at my passport and asked me why I was here, then turned and left. Thirty minutes later, they just came right through the door guns pointed saying where in your phone, where is your bag, you’re coming with us.”
Riots and violence have flooded the streets of Venezuela all too frequently these past couple years, mostly due to the political movement against President Nicolas Maduro. Josh said he had been warned about the dangers there, but points out, things hadn’t escalated in the country until after he arrived. Still, he says he’s taken flak from people online about his decision to travel there.
“I’ve heard lots and lots of people say bad things about us, and I don’t care. When I went down to Venezuela there was no riots going on, nothing,” Holt said.
Still, things changed quickly. Josh said when police barged into their apartment, they loaded him into the back of a truck. Eventually, Thamy arrived at the jail to tell him what they had been charged with.
“She said Josh they put a gun and grenade in our house, and I just freaked out,” he said.
The pair spent the next two years in jail where they say they felt lucky to emerge alive.
“I had to pee in bottles,” Josh said. “They didn’t give us shoes, water, clothes. So, everything you needed, you had to pay for yourself.”
“They told me things like they were going to rape me,” Thamy Holt added. “They’d stick me in a room with 33 women that’s seven-by-five meters.”
Thamy said the toughest part was being separated from her two daughters.
“How do you tell or help a little girl understand you have to wait, that I still can’t be with you,” Thamy said while wiping away a tear.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S. Josh Holt’s family did fundraisers, held rallies and tirelessly bent the ear of politicians and the efforts finally paid off.
“I just remember she started dancing and jumping up and down, and she said, ‘Yes! We’re going home,’” said a smiling Josh Holt about his wife Thamy.
Holt said he felt like he didn’t take a deep breath until he was on the plane and back over U.S. territory. Back on U.S. soil for the first time in two years, Holt says a book deal is next, and he hopes to become a motivational speaker.
“I want to use this story to help people overcome things in their lives,” Josh said.