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Josh Holt's "horrible nightmare" started with a loud knock at the door. It was 6 a.m. and someone outside his Venezuela apartment was yelling "POLICE."

His wife of two weeks answered the door and an officer barged in, demanding to know how many men were inside.

"Only my husband," she said.

The officer walked to the bedroom, hit Holt on the foot to wake him and asked for his visa. Then he left. Relief washed over Holt, but it was short-lived: The fear came rushing back 40 minutes later when five uniformed men returned to his place. This time they took Holt with them, calling him the "gringo." He was handcuffed, confused and scared, but mostly, he asked, "What did I do?"

That is how 24-year-old Holt, a former LDS missionary from Riverton, recounts his arrest on June 30 in a letter written from his jail cell and posted publicly online Monday by his mother.

Hours after Holt's arrest, his wife, Thamara Caleno — a Mormon woman that he met online in January 2016 to practice Spanish — also was jailed. The two were married in Venezuela near Caleno's home 14 days earlier and had returned from their honeymoon in Ecuador shortly before the arrests.

"This jail is filled with lots of innocent people that have been here for many years, which terrifies me knowing that we are innocent," Holt writes. "I have been told by 10 to 20 people, prisoners and guards, that I am here because I am American. I have also been told by guards that Americans have no rights here."

In a separate letter that she penned, Caleno says the country's secret police returned a third time and planted a grenade and a gun in their apartment. They arrested her for being an accomplice. Both of the newlyweds remain in jail on weapon charges, with their first hearing set for Sept. 15.

"We are the innocent victims of the bad actions of corrupted officers in this country, a country so gallant where we the good people are imprisoned, and the bad ones are on the streets," Caleno writes.

Officials from the U.S. Embassy have spoken twice to Holt, Laurie Holt said, but have not secured her son's release; they've noted that there has been no mistreatment. Laurie Holt has also talked with Utah Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and Rep. Mia Love, to negotiate the couple's freedom.

"He is a political hostage," Laurie Holt said. "Our lawyer is telling us that the government must get involved now."

Holt, one of 12 U.S. citizens jailed in Venezuela, says his health is declining, noting in his letter that he has suffered from kidney stones and bronchitis while behind bars: "It feels like the pressure of the world is weighing down upon my chest."

He sees Caleno once a day when filling up his allotted bottle of water.

"I give her a kiss and tell her I love her and someday we'll be a family again," he said.

Caleno's two daughters were left with their grandmother after the arrests. She says the family was waiting for their visas before plans to fly to Utah together on Aug. 19.

Holt is trying to remain optimistic, he writes, by thinking of verses from the Book of Mormon, but his letter is dotted by expressions of grief and discouragement.

"I have never spent so many nights crying myself to sleep wondering why God is allowing this to happen to me and my family," Holt said.

A Venezuela judge denied to drop the charges against Holt and Caleno on Wednesday.

Twitter: @CourtneyLTanner