RIVERTON — While the day Josh Holt is expected to return home to this south Salt Lake County community was still a little up in the air Sunday, family, friends, neighbors and even strangers worked to ensure that whenever he does arrive, he'll be greeted with a visual reminder that he was never forgotten.
A two-year ordeal for Holt and his family came to an end this weekend, after the former LDS Church missionary and his wife were released early Saturday morning from a Venezuelan prison and flown to Washington, D.C. Holt and his wife, Thamy, were met by his parents, Laurie and Jason Holt, as well as Sen. Orrin Hatch and his wife, Elaine, and then were welcomed by President Donald Trump at the White House.
Creating a welcome home he will never forget was the mission of Holt family members, friends and dozens of helpers who gathered Sunday to tie bright green ribbons along 12600 South near Riverton City Park at the city's entrance.
Josh's sister Katie Holt said her brother's return was not going to feel grounded in reality until she had him in her arms.
"I'm overwhelmed and it still doesn't feel real," Katie Holt said. "I think once I can see him in person, and hug him and have a conversation, then it will set in."
Riverton Mayor Trent Staggs joined the family for Sunday's decorating effort and said he had offered the Old Dome Meeting Hall in the park as a location for an expected crowd when Josh Holt returns to Riverton, which is now believed to be sometime on Tuesday, according to family members.
Earlier Sunday, it was thought that Josh Holt and his family would be back in Utah on Monday, but the return trip was delayed as both Josh and Thamy continue to receive medical care in Washington, according to a Facebook posting by Josh's mother, Laurie Holt.
In an interview with NBC News on Sunday, Laurie Holt said she was still very much recovering from the emotional toll of her son's long imprisonment and was looking forward to life getting back to normal.
"(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."
A visibly emotional Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who had flown to Washington to greet Josh Holt and his wife Saturday, spoke with reporters Sunday morning at the Salt Lake City International Airport on her return to Utah.
"When you've got good people working together ... miracles can happen," Love said. "And this is truly a miracle because Venezuela is not a place where we have any relationships, no extradition treaties."
Love said she had become close with the Holt family over the course of Josh's incarceration and offered words of encouragement to Laurie Holt as she and her family adjust to the end of the ordeal.
"Laurie has become such a good friend of mine throughout this whole thing," Love said. "She is a rock. (I told her) I promise you there’s going to be a day when you and I are going to sit in the backyard having a burger and we’re gonna think of this as a distant memory. And we’re going to talk about the memories of how we got Joshua home."
Longtime Holt family friend Kim Birdsall launched the Justice for Josh Facebook page that has served for nearly the entirety of Josh Holt's imprisonment as a place both to keep friends and neighbors apprised of the situation, as well as a conduit for those concerned to offer thoughts and best wishes to the family.
On Sunday, Birdsall said, from the day the page went up, she was floored by the number of people — from around the world — who reached out to the Holt family and was particularly inspired by the sentiments shared by residents of Venezuela.
"The messages posted by the people of Venezuela are really some of the most moving," Birdsall said. "They let us know how concerned they were for Josh and has family, but also how disappointed ... and saddened they were by the actions of Venezuela's leaders."
But Sunday's decorating party in Riverton was an exercise in celebration, and anticipation, of Josh Holt's pending return to his hometown. Herriman resident Patrick Repin said he did not know Josh Holt or his family, but heard about the event through a Facebook posting and decided to make it part of his Memorial Day holiday weekend.
"I've been reading in the news about Josh being captured in Venezuela and finally released," Repin said. "I can't imagine what he and his family have been through. It seemed fitting to help out today with this on the weekend we dedicate to remembrance."
Contributing: Dennis Romboy