Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) has ordered an investigation into allegations of sexual abuse that took place at USA Gymnastics’ national team training center at Karolyi Ranch. Abbott called on the Texas Rangers, the state’s lead criminal investigative unit, to handle the probe into claims of molestation at the facility by former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar.
“The public statements made by athletes who previously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrenching,” Abbott said in a letter to the state’s department of public safety. “Those athletes, as well as all Texans, deserve to know that no stone is left unturned to ensure that the allegations are thoroughly vetted and the perpetrators and enablers of any such misconduct are brought to justice. The people of Texas demand, and the victims deserve, nothing less.”
The Rangers will assist an ongoing investigation by the Walker County sheriff’s department, which confirmed earlier this month that it had opened an inquiry into the ranch, where dozens of gymnasts, including Olympic gold medalist Aly Raisman, have claimed Nassar abused them under the guise of medical treatment.
USA Gymnastics recently cut ties with Karolyi Ranch, which has since permanently closed. USA Gymnastics announced its decision during Nassar’s sentencing hearing in Michigan during which more than 150 girls and women read victim impact statements to the former doctor. Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to sexually abusing seven girls. He had already been sentenced to 60 years in federal prison for child pornography.
Many of the gymnasts who spoke at the sentencing hearing alleged that the abuse took place at Karolyi Ranch. Raisman, who captained the U.S. Olympic team in 2012 and 2016, told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that Nassar began abusing her when she was 15, offering her desserts as a treat during treatment sessions; desserts were banned at the ranch, which was owned and operated by notoriously demanding coaches Bela and Marta Karolyi.
“He was grooming me so he could molest me,” Raisman said.
Simone Biles, a 2016 gold medalist, expressed dread in a statement on social media earlier in January that she would have to return to the ranch ahead of the 2020 Summer Games.
“It is impossibly difficult to relive these experiences and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work toward my dream of competing in Tokyo in 2020, I will have to continually return to the same training facility where I was abused,” she wrote.
Mattie Larson, another former national team member, said in her victim statement that she purposefully injured herself to avoid a trip to the ranch, which she and other gymnasts called the perfect environment for abuse.
“I was taking a bath when I decided to push the bath mat aside, splash water on the tiles, get on the floor and bang the back of my head against the tub hard enough to get a bump so it seemed like I slipped,” Larson said. “My parents immediately took me to the hospital because they thought I had a concussion. I was willing to physically hurt myself to get out of the abuse that I received at the ranch.”
Gymnasts also have alleged physical and emotional abuse by coaches, including the Karolyis, at the facility, at which phone service was reportedly sketchy and parents weren’t allowed.
The Karolyis opened the ranch in 1983. USA Gymnastics designated the facility as the U.S. women’s national training center in 2001, the same year Martha Karolyi was named national team coordinator. Nassar’s role as national team coach brought him to the Huntsville, Tex., ranch to treat athletes. Nassar, who had served as USA Gymnastics national team physician from 1996 to 2015 but mainly treated athletes at Michigan State, was not licensed to practice medicine in Texas, according to the state’s medical board.
Last week, the entire board of directors for USA Gymnastics resigned following a request by the U.S. Olympic Committee. The president and athletic director at Michigan State also stepped aside as a result of information that came to light during Nassar’s sentencing, which has elicited national outrage and drawn criticism from several in Congress.
Nassar will return to court in Michigan for sentencing on three additional counts of criminal sexual conduct. More than 57 victims are expected to speak, according to the Michigan attorney general’s office.