Investigators are looking to see if an American woman’s 12-day disappearance was staged, in an elaborate scheme to raise money on GoFundMe.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Utah is cautioning the office had not gathered enough evidence to support their allegation she attempted to defraud the public.
Holly Suzanne Courtier, a 38-year-old Los Angeles mother, disappeared on October 6 while hiking in Zion National Park.
A GoFundMe page started by her sister, Jaime Strong, raised more than £9,000 before it was deactivated, the Sun reported.
A post written by Strong on October 15, said the money raised from the GoFundMe page would be used to reimburse hotel and car rental expenses for family and friends who helped search for Courtier.
It would also help to fund Courtier’s medical care, it said.
Utah authorities have since launched an investigation into Courtier’s disappearance, after determining her story had discrepancies and questions that do not add up.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office said it received “numerous tips” indicating “the incident was possibly conceived and carried out as part of a plan to fraudulently generate money to a GoFundMe account for Courtier’s recovery.”
“Despite the thorough investigation conducted by the National Park Service, Utah State Code does not grant them the authority to investigate violations of Utah law,” the sheriff’s department press release reads.
“Based on our local authority and jurisdiction, the Sheriff’s Office had an obligation to the public to investigate the criminal allegations which were being presented,” it continued.
There was no evidence, at that point in the investigation, to support the theory that the incident was committed intentionally as an effort to achieve financial gain, the release concluded.
Courtier’s disappearance came after the California resident was dropped off at the Grotto Picnic Area by a private shuttle and did not return on October 6.
A massive search effort went underway as K-9 units were deployed as well as drones and search and rescue teams.
On October 18, she was found by park rangers half a mile from where she was dropped off after park rangers received a tip from a hiker.
Washington County Sheriff’s Office sergeant Darrell Cashin said their search and rescue teams went above and beyond in locating Courtier.
Cashin’s doubts about Courtier’s story began after reading a CNN interview with her 19-year-old daughter, Kailey Chambers.
The teen told the news service her mother had injured her head on a tree and become disorientated. She’d ended up near a river bed and thought her best chance of survival was to stay near a source of water.
Chambers said her mother didn’t have food on her when she went missing. She became weak, Chambers said, which prevented her from being able to seek out help.
However, Cashin said the claims led to his doubts, saying the only source of water in the park is the Virgin River, toxic due to the numerous parasites inhabiting the water, saying park officials in July warned visitors to avoid contact with the water because of its high concentrations of cyanobacteria.
Cashin said she would have died if she relied on that water for 12 days.
Cashin also question Courtier’s daughter’s claims that she hit her head. If his team found someone with a severe head injury, they would have called for a transport agency to check her out, he said.
Zion National Park officials said Courtier was able to walk on her own power with minimal assistance.
Courtier, who lost her job as a nanny due to the coronavirus pandemic, left her cellphone behind without telling her family where she was going when she left home two weeks earlier.
Her sister said she was having a mental breakdown, seeking a “total disconnect” from everything.
Since her discovery, Courtier has checked herself into a mental wellness center in California.
Strong had updated the since-deactivated GoFundMe, stating that her sister did not intend for her trip to become a search and rescue effort.