A Utah man who has been incarcerated in a Venezuelan jail since 2016 was on a flight home to the U.S., Venezuelan officials said Saturday.
Joshua Holt, 26, has been jailed in Venezuela after he traveled to the South American country in the summer of 2016 to marry Thamara Candelo, whom he met on a website for Mormon singles. The two planned to return to the U.S. after getting married, but where jailed in El Hilcolde on what human rights groups said were largely trumped-up charges.
“Good news about the release of the American hostage from Venezuela. Should be landing in D.C. this evening and be in the White House, with his family, at about 7:00 p.m. The great people of Utah will be very happy!” President Donald Trump said in an early morning tweet.
In a following tweet, Trump said he was “looking forward to seeing Joshua Holt this evening in the White House.”
“The great people of Utah are celebrating!” he continued.
Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch’s office said in a statement minutes before that Holt and his wife were on their way back to the U.S.
“Over the last two years I’ve worked with two Presidential administrations, countless diplomatic contracts, ambassadors from all over the world, a network of contacts in Venezuela, and President Maduro himself, and I could not be more honored to be able to reunite Josh with his sweet, long-suffering family in Riverton,” the statement said.
Hatch’s office also thanked Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker for his “pivotal efforts” and the “Senate Foreign Relations Committee for their help in this effort.”
“I want to particularly thank Caleb McCarry, whose expertise and effort in Venezuela on my behalf has been instrumental in bringing Josh home,” the statement concluded.
Corker later released a statement about the release, saying he “was honored to play a small role in bringing Josh and his wife home.”
He went on to thank Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the State Department, as well as Caleb McCarry, “an incredibly valued member of my staff,” whose help was instrumental in bringing the family home, he said.
The statement said that both “Corker and McCarry are traveling with the Holts from Venezuela.”
Corker shared a photo of himself with the Holts and said “we are on our way home.”
Utah Sen. Mike Lee also released a statement regarding Holt’s release.
“I am very excited that after almost two years in prison, Utahn Joshua Holt has been released and will be reunited with his family today. We have long fought and prayed for his release from the Venezuelan government and are thrilled for his family,” Lee said.
Venezuelan authorities claim Holt and his wife were stockpiling weapons, and have suggested they were part of a U.S. plan to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro. But witnesses say they saw Venezuelan police, accused of demanding $10,000 from Holt and Candelo, plant weapons just before arresting the couple – and announcing the discovery of the arms.
Laurie Holt, Joshua’s mother, told Fox News in February that her son’s ordeal has taken an emotional and physical toll on her. A week ago, the 7-year-old daughter of Candelo from a previous marriage arrived in the United States on a humanitarian visa to live with Joshua Holt’s parents in Utah.
Earlier this month, Holt made pleas on Facebook claiming that the prison he was incarcerated in has been taken over by people trying to kill him.
“I need help. They have taken the entire prison where I am at,” he can be heard saying in the first video. “The people have taken the entire prison. They’re outside, they’re trying to break in. They’re saying they want to kill me. They are saying that they want me as their guarantee.” AMERICANS
In the second video, Holt continues by “calling on the people of America” to get him out. “I have been begging my government for two years. They say that they are doing things, but I’m still here and now my life is threatened.”
Holt’s family said in a statment they were “grateful to all who participated in this miracle.”
“We thank you for your collaboration during this time of anguish. We ask that you allow us to meet with our son and his wife before giving any interviews and statements. We are grateful to all who participated in this miracle,” the statement read.
Fox News’ Elizabeth Llorente, Paulina Dedaj and Elizabeth Zwirz contributed to this report.