Questions remain about Woodland Hills woman found alive after going missing in Zion National Park

The Virgin River winds through the red rock canyon walls near the Temple of Sinawava inside Zion National Park in Utah.
(Marc Martin/Los Angeles Times)

Her sister called it a “miracle.”

After going missing for 12 days in Zion National Park in Utah, Woodland Hills mom Holly Suzanne Courtier was discovered on Sunday by rangers after a report from a park visitor, who said they had seen Courtier in the area, led to her rescue.

“I think God got her through this,” Courtier’s sister Jaime Strong, 41, told NBC News. “I think it’s a miracle. I truly believe there is no reason she should be alive. It doesn’t make sense. She didn’t have the proper gear, and she didn’t have food or water.”

This lack of gear and preparation for her expedition into the park has led one local search and rescue team member to question how the 38-year-old former nanny, who lost her job at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, survived the ordeal.


A vigorous search for Courtier began after she failed to show up for a scheduled shuttle departure from the park Oct. 6. Courtier, who had been dropped off for a hike earlier that day, was reported missing Oct. 8, according to the National Park Service.

Strong and other family members have been saying in interviews since Courtier’s rescue that she was able to survive by staying near the Virgin River, which is a heavily trafficked part of the park, and emerged emaciated.

Her daughter also told CNN that she had hit her head and become disoriented. Officials with Zion National Park said that once she was found she was in good enough condition to be reunited with her family.

“Was she that bad or was she not? This doesn’t make sense,” Utah’s Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Sgt. Darrell Cashin told local media.

“They [the Zion team] apparently talked to her and felt she was OK to be released to the family.”


Cashin, whom The Times was unable to reach, told local media outlets that there was a series of unanswered questions that needed to be answered, because the family’s accounting didn’t add up. A spokeswoman for the park didn’t respond to a request for comment.

“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.”

She had also done a pre-hike fast and left her phone behind, Strong said in the NBC interview. Some family members said she drank the river water, which is known to be full of deadly toxins and would’ve likely left her very ill. But others said she had merely “wet her lips.”

Cashin noted that if she had been drinking the river water, she likely would’ve died. He also questioned the wisdom of going on a trip like this with what appeared to be such little preparation. Courtier’s sister said in interviews that she had been going through a difficult time in her life but didn’t elaborate.

“I don’t think that her mental state was good when she went into the park,” Strong told NBC. “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 has definitely been through some trauma over the past several years,” Strong said. “I don’t think she’s properly dealt with it and gotten the proper help for it, and now is the time.”


Her younger sister Jillian Oliver, told The Times that she had seen Courtier days before she left for Zion and that her sister seemed in good spirits. Oliver lives a short drive away from Courtier with her two children in Agoura Hills, and she said her sister dropped by and they caught up.

They were having dinner, but Courtier told Oliver that she wasn’t eating anything because she was fasting, which was something she did with some regularity. Oliver said her sister was a free spirit prone to spontaneity and that she didn’t tell Oliver she was planning to go to Zion but said she was in a good mood.

“She gave me a big hug and said, ‘I love you so much,’” Oliver said. “She seemed a little choked up. Like she wasn’t going to see us for maybe a few weeks or something.”

They discovered that she was in Zion only after Courtier’s roommate filed a missing persons report and the authorities discovered she used her credit card to pay to enter the park, Oliver said.

Oliver was ecstatic when she learned her sister had been found. She had spent six days at Zion receiving updates about the search. At each meeting, the search and rescue teams would say again that she didn’t have any food or water. Oliver reminded herself that because her sister fasted so often, maybe she’d be able to survive.

They reunited Tuesday at their other sister’s house. Oliver said Courtier looked very thin and was exhausted. She didn’t stand up as Oliver helped her pack and organize some clothes her daughter had brought for her.


“She had started kidney failure and she was one to two days from death,” Oliver told The Times. She said a medical professional who examined Courtier had told her this and added that she appeared to have a concussion.

Times staff writer Maya Lau contributed to this story.