Venezuelan police arrested a Pocatello native and his newlywed wife on Thursday and are holding the couple on suspicion that they are American spies.
Police allegedly discovered a hand grenade an M4 and AK-47 assault rifles in the apartment of Joshua Holt, 24, and his wife, Thamara Belen Caleño Candelo, 25, in Ciudad Caribia, Venezuela.
Joshua’s mother, Laurie Holt, received a panicked phone call from her daughter on Friday evening saying that Thamara’s mother had sent her a Facebook message stating the two had been arrested.
“The first thing you think is that this is fraud or someone trying to get money out of us,” Laurie said. “After getting home, I logged into my Facebook account, and I had multiple message requests from Thamara’s mom and aunt who lives in North Carolina saying to call 911 and emergency services.”
Joshua’s family has ties to Pocatello with relatives, including his grandmother, still residing in the city.
Laurie and her husband, Jayson Holt, moved from Pocatello to Riverton, Utah, when Joshua was a child.
According to a Venezuelan news outlet, Notisur 24, police attempted to speak with Joshua, but he retreated back into his apartment. Police then raided the apartment.
“If you know Josh, that’s definitely not him,” Laurie said.
Notisur 24 published photos depicting the pair’s drivers licenses, passports, cellphones, U.S. and Venezuelan currency and the assault rifles and hand grenade.
According to Laurie, Joshua and Thamara were living in Venezuela while waiting for Thamara’s visa to come through so that the pair could travel back to the U.S.
Joshua recently completed an LDS mission in Washington state in January and met Thamara through LDS.org.
After communicating back and forth for several months, the two fell in love. Joshua flew to the Dominican Republic where he met Thamara for the first time.
“About three weeks later, he flew to Venezuela on June 11,” Laurie said. “He was there for about a week and they got married on June 16 and honeymooned on an island in Venezuela.”
On June 25, the couple returned to Thamara’s residence in Ciudad Caribia where she lives with her 5- and 7-year-old daughters.
Laurie said Thamara hated guns, and the idea that either of the two would be in possession of the weapons discovered is absolutely ludicrous.
Laurie last heard from Joshua on Monday. He said he was doing good, he was happy, and it didn’t seem as dangerous as Thamara had described.
“She originally told him she didn’t want him to go outside at all because they hate Americans and they would target him,” Laurie said. “They went out to a grocery store and other things around town.”
The rest of the Holt family has not had any communication with Joshua or Thamara whatsoever, and the limited communication between the mother and others in Venezuela have been difficult because of language barriers.
At this time, the family has contacted the American Embassy in Venezuela and multiple governmental officials in the states, including Idaho Sen. Jim Risch.
They are still waiting to hear back from his office.
“We are an upset, distraught family,” Laurie said. “All we want is our son back safe.”