RIVERTON — After becoming nationally recognized as a stalwart "Mama Bear" on behalf of her son Josh Holt, who spent two years in a Venezuelan jail before being released last May, a family social media posting Sunday announced Laurie Moon Holt has died.
The statement on Laurie Holt's Facebook page Sunday afternoon did not indicate a cause of death.
“We are devastated to announce the tragic passing of our sweet Mama Bear Laurie Holt this morning," the post read. "She had a gigantic heart and we will miss her dearly. We ask for privacy as we mourn her passing and will provide more details on funeral arrangements as soon as possible.”
Utah elected officials who advocated on behalf of Josh Holt's release also took to social media Sunday evening, sharing remembrances.
Former U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch tweeted: "In my entire Senate service there’s no memory I cherish more than seeing Laurie hug her son Josh when they were finally reunited. Our hearts ache at news of her passing, but Elaine and I send our prayers and our love to Jason and the Holt family tonight."
Former Rep. Mia Love, who counted the Holts among her 4th Congressional District constituents and worked on behalf of the Holt family to get government help to secure his release, shared her memories of Laurie Holt.
"My dear friend Laurie Holt passed away today and I am just devastated," Love said. "She was a beautiful person and always had a smile. Laurie would always end our phone calls with, 'OK, love you lady.' My prayers and love are with her husband Jason, her children and grandchildren that she has left for now. Laurie, I will miss you, love you lady."
And Josh Holt also took to Facebook on Sunday to share a thought about his mother.
"I love you so much mommy," Holt wrote. "You will be missed more than you know!"
Holt was arrested and jailed in the summer of 2016 following a raid of the Caracas neighborhood where he and his Venezuelan wife, Thamy, lived. Holt met his wife through online Spanish lessons after returning from a Spanish-speaking LDS mission to Washington state.
In early July 2016, Holt's family announced it had gone more than a week without hearing from him, and suspected he was being framed and held as a spy. They received a Facebook message from his wife's mother, stating that her daughter and Josh Holt were in prison.
The message had little information about the arrest but included a local news article about the alleged crime, including photos of guns, a grenade, cash, Josh Holt's passport, credit cards and IDs allegedly taken from the apartment where the couple was living.
After two years of captivity, their release came about abruptly, through a small window in which Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro was willing to talk to U.S. officials. Early last year, Hatch had a Senate Foreign Relations Committee staff member carry a letter to the president of Venezuela that opened a correspondence that he says led to the release of Josh Holt and his wife.
The Venezuelan government unexpectedly released Holt from jail last May after U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, met with Maduro in Caracas. After his release, Corker accompanied Holt, his wife and stepdaughter to Washington.
Upon their return, Holt and his wife and parents met with President Donald Trump at the White House before being taken to a Washington hospital for medical care. A few days later, they returned to Utah.
Holt and his family received a hero's welcome in Riverton on May 28, 2018.
In an interview with NBC News shortly after her son and his family had returned to the U.S., Laurie Holt noted the toll the ordeal had taken on her.6 comments on this story
"(Before Josh's imprisonment) I was a very energetic person, very fun-loving," Laurie Holt said. "I’m still that way, but the fun’s not there as much, the laughter’s not there. I’ve had a lot of emotional roller coasters I’ve had to overcome and be strong for him and to get him home.
"So now, a weight’s been lifted off my shoulders, obviously, but now I just need to find myself again."
The family has established a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral expenses.