The sister of previously missing Zion hiker Holly Courtier has spoken out in an attempt to clear up any confusion surrounding the woman’s rescue. Courtier went 12 days without food or water in the Utah national park.
Jaime Strong, 41, told NBC on Thursday that the 38-year-old avid hiker had lost roughly 15 to 18 pounds during her nearly two weeks stranded in Utah’s Zion National Park, and did not drink any water throughout that time, despite being found in an area within the park along the Virgin River.
Courtier, from Los Angeles, had last been seen on Oct. 6 until she was rescued on Sunday. A subsequent statement provided by the National Park Service described how she was found in a “thickly vegetated area along the Virgin River” and was able to leave “of her own capability with minimal assistance.”
Soon after, a relative told CNN that Courtier had hurt her head on a tree.
“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,” the relative said, adding that Courtier was so weak she was unable to take more than one or two steps without collapsing.
But a sheriff’s search-and-rescue sergeant, whose team assisted in the search for Courtier, told local news station ABC4 he had noticed “discrepancies and questions that do not add up.” Sgt. Darrell Cashin from the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue questioned the seriousness of Courtier’s head injury and said rescuers would have taken specific measures if it were severe.
“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 told the outlet. “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.”
And if Courtier had used the Virgin River as a water source for the full 12-day period, Cashin said, there would have been a “high probability” that she wouldn’t have survived because the water contains a toxic level of cyanobacteria, ABC4 reported.
Cashin also noted “some question of her decision-making regarding her trip to the park,” according to ABC4, which reported that based on Cashin’s knowledge of the events, Courtier did not tell anyone in her family about her trip when she left “in the middle of the night.”
“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 told the outlet. “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.”
On Thursday, Strong told “Today” her sister said “she didn’t have anything to drink at all,” according to the report.
“She was very well-aware of the toxins in the river. There was a statement made that she said she set up camp because she wanted to stay close to the river,” she continued, “but we were never implying that she drank the water.”
And speaking on how contradictions surrounding the park’s description of Courtier’s ability to leave “with minimal assistance” countered with the family’s reports of her weakness at the time, Strong said “adrenaline” contributed to her sister’s sudden strength.
“When you think you’re going to die and you see a ranger, she said she literally got like giddy inside because she knew she was going to see her daughter and her family,” she said, “so you definitely have some adrenaline working for you at that point.”
Strong also said a park ranger stood behind Courtier, who was concussed from her head injury, as they left the park and they stopped roughly every 5 feet to take a rest break. Courtier’s family then took her to the hospital, according to the report.
“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,” Strong said. “Things have just been twisted.”
Strong said her sister had recently been out of a job and entered the park on Oct. 6 to get away from technology, read the Bible and partake in a one- or two-day “journey of fasting.”
“I don’t think that her mental state was good when she went into the park,” Strong said. “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.”
She is now under the care of a mental health facility, where she checked herself in after being found.
“She has definitely been through some trauma over the past several years,” Strong reportedly said. “I don’t think she’s properly dealt with it and gotten the proper help for it, and now is the time.”