Holly Courtier rescue prompts concerns after GoFundMe raises almost $12K; family outlines fund allocation

In this 2020 file photo, the National Park Service is asking for help to locate Holly Suzanne Courtier who went missing in Zion National Park, Utah, Oct. 6, 2020 | Flier Courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Following the rescue of a hiker who went missing in Zion National Park for nearly two weeks, questions have arisen surrounding her disappearance, and many have been skeptical of a GoFundMe account started by the woman’s family three days before she was found, an account that gathered almost $12,000 before new donations were disabled.

A missing poster for Holly Courtier is posted on the bathroom at the Zion National Park Visitor Center, Zion National Park, Utah, Oct. 16, 2020 | Photo by Hollie Stark, St. George News

On Oct. 19, Zion National Park spokesperson Amanda Rowland released a statement regarding the Oct. 18 rescue of Holly Suzanne Courtier, a 38-year-old from Los Angeles who was last seen Oct. 6 exiting a shuttle at The Grotto shuttle stop,  which is the starting point for several trails, including Angel’s Landing and the West Rim Trail. The statement said Courtier was found alive and was able to leave the park with minimal search and rescue assistance.

But the park’s official statement didn’t seem to add up with information given to various press outlets from the family that claimed Courtier hit her head early in her hike and became severely disoriented and dehydrated.

In a St. George News report published Oct. 21, Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Sgt. Darrel Cashin questioned the family’s official story and said it didn’t make sense that Courtier was rescued with minimal assistance.

“Was she that bad or was she not?” Cashin said in the report.

A flyer being distributed for missing woman Holly Suzanne Courtier in Zion National Park, Utah, on Oct. 17, 2020. | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News | Click to enlarge

After the same report, St. George News received several emails from readers also questioning the events, particularly in light of the family’s creation of a GoFundMe account which had received $11,860 and was titled “Please Help Find Holly Courtier!”

“The story makes no sense and simply can’t be true in its entirety,” one reader said. “I have honestly thought of an abduction, or a concerted GoFundMe scam in collaboration with her daughter who seems to be feeding untruths to the media/public.”

Another reader questioned the timing of the GoFundMe’s creation.

“After reading this article it strengthens our beliefs that this woman and her daughter orchestrated this ‘plan’ to get lost then found in her attempt to make some $$ and she is doing so from her GoFundMe that was conveniently created the minute that she was found,” the email said.

According to the GoFundMe page, the account was created Oct. 15. Courtier was rescued Oct. 18.

In an email to St. George News, GoFundMe regional spokesperson Jenny Perillo confirmed that the company’s Trust and Safety team was working with Courtier’s sister Jaime Strong, who organized the fundraiser with the original stated intent of paying for lodging for family members coming to Zion to search for Courtier, as well as supplies that would assist in the search and “medical expenses for Holly when she is found.”

K-9 officer Zoey from Utah Search Dogs joins in the search for missing woman Holly Suzanne Courtier in Zion National Park, Utah, on Oct. 16, 2020. | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Perillo said the GoFundMe experts work “around the clock and are focused on supporting our organizers and donors, reviewing and vetting fundraisers, and implementing our Terms of Service. They ensure GoFundMe is the safest place to give.”

“In addition to technical tools and a dedicated team of experts,” she continued, “we also have a community of 50 million – when they see something they think might not be right, they tell us, and our team looks into it.”

Strong has since disabled new donations to the fundraiser, and in an Oct 22 update, she links to a TODAY article that “will address many of those questions” surrounding the rescue. She also outlined in detail how the money raised will be spent.

Those details are as follows:

  • Funds will be used to reimburse the family and friend’s costs in searching for Holly. (Such as; hotels rooms, equipment purchased to look for Holly, car rentals, and food for search parties.
  • A separate bank account will be opened up to reimburse these individuals.
  • A remainder of the donations will be used to cover the medical care applied to Holly during her hospital stay as well as therapy costs moving forward.

In the same TODAY report, Strong said that her sister’s mental health was not good prior to going missing in Zion National Park, adding that Courtier had lost her job as a nanny due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which likely added to her mental state before going to Zion without telling anyone.

Undated image of Holly Suzanne Courtier in Zion National Park, Utah, who had been missing from Oct. 6 to 17, 2020. | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

“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 to TODAY.

This conflicts with an earlier statement from Courtier’s daughter, who told CNN that she and her mother were visiting Zion a month ago as part of her 19th birthday. Chambers said her mother stayed behind to continue a solo trip after she returned to her home in San Diego.

While Strong maintains that the GoFundMe was legitimate, she also acknowledged that people who have concerns are able to receive a refund for their donation from the fundraising platform.

The GoFundMe platform is backed by a GoFundMe Guarantee, Perillo said, meaning that “funds are guaranteed to go to the right place or they will get a refund.”

An email through the GoFundMe page for Courtier attempting to contact Strong was not answered as of the time of this report.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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