As doubts grow over the story of how a hiker survived 12 days missing in a national park, police have revealed they are probing into whether her version of events was fabricated.
Holly Courtier went missing in Zion National Park in the US state of Utah for 12 days after she was dropped off at the Grotto parking area around 1.30pm on October 6 by a private shuttle bus.
She was scheduled to be picked up after 4.30pm, but she never showed up.
After the 38-year-old was reported missing on October 8, a frantic search for her began, with a GoFundMe page raising almost A$17,000 to help fund rescue efforts.
Ms Courtier was found alive on October 18 after search crews received a tip from a park visitor who reported seeing her.
Sgt Darrell Cashin, whose search and rescue team assisted in finding Ms Courtier, raised questions however over the legitimacy of the hiker’s version of events.
Questions raised over hiker’s story
Despite her family claiming Ms Courtier hit her head and could not walk more than a step or two without collapsing, authorities were confused why she could walk out on her own with only minimal assistance after being located.
Ms Courtier had also set up camp near the Virgin River, but she could not have drunk the water as it was toxic and Sgt Cashin said she would have died within two or three days without any water at all.
Ms Strong told The Spectrum she had rinsed water from the Virgin River around her mouth before spitting it out.
There were also questions raised over the location she was found – just 800 metres from the Grotto parking area.
“If she’s by the Virgin River, she’s down in the valley, not in the back country up in the plateaus and the peaks,” Sgt Cashin told ABC4.
“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.”
But Ms Strong said while Ms Courtier had seen people while she was lost, she could not yell out to them as her mouth was so dry from being dehydrated.
Police receive tips over ‘fake story’
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, authorities have launched an investigation into Ms Courtier’s version of events and whether it was staged as an opportunity to raise money through the GoFundMe page.
“Numerous tips have been received 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,” police said in a statement.
They added however, they had no evidence to support the theory the story was fabricated in an effort to achieve financial gain.
On the GoFundMe page, Ms Strong addressed speculation over Ms Courtier’s disappearance and said money raised was being used to reimburse family and friends for equipment purchased, hotel rooms, car rentals and food during the search.
Money is also going towards Ms Courtier’s medical care and therapy costs moving forward.
She said anybody with concerns however could request a refund.
“We appreciate everyone’s continued support. This fundraiser is, and always was, 100 per cent legitimate,” the page says.
“However, we acknowledge and respect people’s concerns over the many inaccuracies portrayed by the press and social media regarding Holly’s ordeal.
“Whomever has concerns about our use of their donation is welcome to request a refund without any objection from the family.”
The investigation is continuing.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.