COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho -- Holly Lahti of Rathdrum, Idaho, won one of the biggest lottery jackpots in U.S. history, and then seemed to disappear off the face of the earth.
Lahti, 31, sat down with KREM 2 News in May for her first TV interview since she split a $380 million Mega Millions jackpot in January 2011.
She received a total of $190 million and shied away from media attention. Lahti moved away from Idaho and her estranged husband almost immediately. She never even showed up to pick up her check.
Lahti opened up with KREM 2 News as she returned to Kootenai County to help raise money for Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society with former co-workers. Lahti agreed to match all of the fundraiser donations using the money she won.
Lahti received lots of real estate and business invitations, letters from inmates and marriage proposals from strangers. She admitted it took time to get used to the attention that came with winning the enormous jackpot.
“It’s hard not to change when you’ve had to uproot and move away and start a new life,” said Lahti. “It was difficult. Difficult to do.”
Even friends of Lahti said it was hard to watch her under the pressure of instant fame.
“It’s died down a bit,” said Carmen Hagenbarth, a former co-worker, “but at the beginning it was very rough.”
Lahti said she fled to California, to a town she would not reveal. She says her focus has been on trying to build a normal life for her two daughters.
“I’m in a good place, yes,” Holly said. “I’m happy. I’m happy my girls are happy. And I’m happy I’m able to do things for my children I wasn’t able to do in the past. I’m happy to be able to devote more time to my children and just be a mom.”
She loves coming back to her hometown too.
“I love driving down my old street, and seeing my old house, and seeing the people I used to see on a daily basis,” added Lahti.
She said she hopes the experienced has not completely changed her.
“There was a lot of attention on me at the beginning,” said Lahti. “But I’m still the same girl. I’m still fun loving. I’m still outgoing. I love to hang out with my old girlfriends. And see old friends.”