ZION NATIONAL PARK, Utah (ABC4 News) — The liaison of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue is speaking out about several discrepancies he says he sees in the case of a California woman who was found alive after being missing for 12 days inside Zion National Park.
Sgt. Darrell Cashin says his search and rescue team was asked to assist in locating Holly Courtier. The 38-year-old mom from Woodland Hills went missing from the park on Oct. 6 and was found by ZNP rescuers on Oct. 18 after they received a credible tip of a possible sighting. Cashin says Courtier was found within approximately half a mile from where she was last seen in the Grotto parking area.
Cashin says their crews provided some K-9 assets and several of their highly trained investigators reviewed the park’s entire search and rescue efforts, from their maps to credible tips and surveillance footage from nearby businesses, that could help find Holly.
Cashin says the national park’s search and rescue teams “went above and beyond.”
“They even had GPS tracks of every trail, every part of the backcountry, and every valley they searched,” Cashin says. “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.”
“Understand, there’s a lot of country up there. If you go off-trail, it will be virtually impossible to find somebody unless they want to be found,” Cashin says.
With his 25 years of experience on search and rescue teams, from swift-water rescues to diving, Cashin tells ABC4 News he knows the Virgin River is not a clean water source, with many species of parasites such as cryptosporidium, especially in the warmer months when they’re allowed to bloom and grow.
The cyanobacteria from a toxic algal bloom detected in early July in the north fork of the Virgin River remains dangerously high, prompting park officials to recommend that visitors avoid all contact in the river until further notice.
Courtier’s family told CNN that she had stayed close to a “water source,” a river bed, during the time she was lost.
“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,” Cashin says. “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.”
Cashin says it’s a “high possibility” Courtier would have died if she was drinking the river water for 12 days. Without any water, she would have died within two to three days, he says.
Based on the statements released from both Zion National Park and the Courtier family, his experience as an advanced EMT, and the liaison of the county’s search and rescue for nine years, Cashin says he finds some “discrepancies and questions that do not add up.”
CNN reported that the family said Courtier had hit her head on a tree, became disoriented, and was only able to take a few steps before collapsing.
“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 says. “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.”
“Physically, she seemed to be in a condition that did not warrant an ambulance and they felt was comfortable to release her to her family to address,” Cashin added. Zion National Park officials reported that Courtier was able to walk out of the park on her own with minimal assistance.
Cashin says that from his knowledge of the case, there was “some question of her decision making regarding her trip to the park.” He says that she left California in the middle of the night and did not tell her family where she was going.
“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 says. “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.”
“The statements that the family is giving and the statements that the park is giving don’t add up,” Cashin says. “Those are the types of questions I think everybody has. I think the place where that question can be answered is with her.”
ABC4 News attempted to contact the Courtier family for an interview. Zion National Park officials provided our reporter’s contact information to the family, who have not yet responded.