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Search for Holly Courtier in Zion cost $60K; still no explanation for disappearance

Posted at 2:50 PM, Mar 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 16:48:09-04

SPRINGDALE, Utah — The FOX 13 Investigates team has obtained more than 100 pages of documents detailing the search for a woman who went missing last October at Zion National Park.

Holly Courtier was last seen Oct. 6 after being dropped off at the park by a private shuttle bus. A massive search was organized, one that included volunteers spurred to help following a plea from Courtier's daughter.

Ground teams, K-9 units, helicopters, and drone operators all searched for Courtier over a span of 12 days.

On Oct. 8, search crews found an unoccupied vehicle belonging to Courtier with "a manila envelope on the dashboard... The Washington County Sheriff's Office declined to pursue a warrant to access the inside of the vehicle until additional information was available."

Crews obtained surveillance video of Courtier, learning she made shuttle reservations prior to her disappearance "and then proceeded to ask questions about a variety of hikes in Zion National Park."

On Oct. 13, someone stated they came across "a (woman) with brown hair and a blue backpack. (The person) stated (they) couldn't see the (woman's) face, but noticed the (person) was sleeping and told (their) children to not disturb (her)."

That same day, search crews found graffiti made of charcoal between an observation point and Stave Spring with the following messages:

  • "keep going :)"
  • "They're everywhere"
  • "No food or water"

On Oct. 16, search crews found a footprint resembling the subject west of Telephone Canyon.

Courtier was found on Oct. 18, the day after a credible witness reported seeing a blue hat sitting underneath a hammock near the Grotto Trailhead, very close to her last known location. Based on the tip, officials found Courtier lying in a hammock next to the Virgin River, which was dealing with toxic algae.

"Upon completing my assignment, my ride was not ready so I decided to walk via a social path to continue searching," the ranger wrote in the report. "I came to a small social path that looked unused but lead to an area of dense vegetation. I decided to investigate the area... As I moved through the brush, I noticed a blue object that I later identified as a backpack. As I made my way closer to the object, the area opened up and I could clearly see a hammock and a (woman) laying in the hammock."

The search cost more than $60,000.

The National Park Service declined to reveal the contents of Courtier's interview with park rangers due to privacy concerns.

“In this case, the harm to personal privacy is greater than whatever public interest may be served by disclosure and would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy," Zion officials said.

Immediately following the incident, Courtier's daughter, Kailey Chambers, said her mother had "injured her head on a tree" during her disappearance.

"She was very disoriented as a result and thankfully ended up near a water source -- a river bed," Chambers texted to CNN. "She thought her best chance of survival was to stay next to a water source."

"She was too weak and disoriented (to seek help). She was unable to take more than a step or two without collapsing. This prevented her from being able to seek out help. She told me she was so dehydrated she couldn't open her mouth."

The search has caused some people to question whether the facts surrounding Courtier's disappearance add up, or if it was simply a ploy for money.

Family members created a GoFundMe page three days before Courtier was found, raising more than $12,000.

"This doesn't make sense," said Sgt. Darrell Cashin in an interview with St. George News. "Had she been drinking that water (from the Virgin River), she would be extremely ill or passed on by now. If she did have a good water source, what was it?"

"I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t know the motivation behind that. That’s a question that only the family can answer and only the victim can answer. I have questions, and I think some people in the public have questions.”

The Washington County Sheriff's Office investigated Courtier after receiving "numerous tips" she had staged the incident to raise money. However, the department closed its investigation after uncovering no evidence of fraud.

Courtier has yet to speak publicly about what happened during the 12 days she was missing.