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Ex-Olympic gymnastics coach dies by suicide hours after being charged with human trafficking, sex crimes

Ex-Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert on Feb. 25 died by suicide hours after being charged with sexual assault and human trafficking. (Video: Reuters)
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Former U.S. Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert, who led the women’s team to a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Games, killed himself Thursday after he was charged with sexual assault and human trafficking in relation to acts that occurred at a Michigan gym he owned and ran for decades.

Geddert’s death was confirmed by Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, hours after she held a news conference announcing his charges.

“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Nessel said.

Geddert, 63, worked closely for years with Larry Nassar, the disgraced sports physician and convicted serial child molester whose offenses first were revealed publicly in 2016, leading to a scandal that continues to resonate in the gymnastics community. One of the charges Geddert faced was related to lying to law enforcement during an investigation into Nassar’s crimes.

The other charges, which Nessel announced Thursday, included two counts of sexual assault against children between the ages of 13 and 16, according to court documents, which did not disclose whether the acts involved more than one victim. Geddert also was charged with 20 counts of human trafficking relating to his use of “force, fraud and coercion against the young athletes that came to him for gymnastics training for financial benefit to him,” Nessel said.

Geddert was scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon. According to a state police spokesperson, his body was located by troopers at a rest area on eastbound Interstate 96 in Clinton County at 3:24 p.m., and an investigation is ongoing.

A lawyer for Geddert did not reply to a request to comment.

Geddert’s charges stemmed from an ongoing investigation by the Michigan attorney general’s office into others who may have had knowledge of crimes committed by Nassar, the former Michigan State University assistant professor and longtime team physician for Team USA’s female gymnasts who molested hundreds of girls in Michigan and at elite gymnastics events around the globe.

Geddert and Nassar worked closely for years, with the doctor regularly providing treatment at Geddert’s Twistars USA Gymnastics facility, located in Dimondale, Mich., near Lansing. Three of Nassar’s sexual assault convictions stem from abuse that took place at the gym, and during Nassar’s 2018 sentencing hearing, Geddert was named by several victims as enabling Nassar, ignoring signs of abuse and using his own abusive coaching tactics.

In the wake of those comments, USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert, and the coach promptly announced his retirement. Geddert’s wife, Kathryn, took over ownership of the gym. Nessel said she isn’t facing any charges related to Geddert’s alleged crimes. The gym was sold this month to new owners, who quickly rebranded it Capital City Flips.

Attorney John Manly, who represents most of the “Fierce Five” U.S. team that reached the podium in London, including Aly Raisman and McKayla Maroney, said he spoke to several victims Thursday who had experienced a wild swing of emotions.

“When he was indicted and they found out he was going to be arrested and they actually found out he’d be charged with real felonies and he’d see the inside of a jail cell, there was a sense of jubilance,” Manly said in a telephone interview Thursday evening. “To learn that he [died by suicide], it’s just a sense of hopelessness and frustration and, frankly, rage.”

Manly, an outspoken critic of USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee, said Geddert’s death robs Geddert’s victims of justice and any semblance of closure. Many of Manly’s clients had waited years to see Geddert face charges because, as Manly said, “without John Geddert, there is no Larry Nassar.”

In a statement, a spokesperson for USA Gymnastics said the organization hoped the newly filed charges against Geddert “would lead to justice through the legal process.”

“With the news of his death by suicide, we share the feelings of shock, and our thoughts are with the gymnastics community as they grapple with the complex emotions of today’s events,” the statement read.

Said Sarah Hirshland, the USOPC chief executive: “It’s the voices of the survivors that matter most at this time. They continue to show bravery and strength in the most difficult circumstances — including today’s events.”

Former competitive gymnast Sarah Klein, who was victimized by Nassar during the more than 10 years she was coached by Geddert, issued a statement following the news of Geddert’s death.

“John Geddert’s escape from justice by committing suicide is traumatizing beyond words,” wrote Klein, now a lawyer specializing in sexual abuse cases. “He tortured and abused little girls, myself included, for more than 30 years and was able to cheat justice. Geddert was a narcissistic abuser. His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see.”

At Thursday’s news conference, Nessel accused Michigan State University of “stonewalling” her investigation by refusing to release 6,000 pages of documents the school’s lawyers have said are covered by attorney-client privilege.

“I find it unconscionable that the university would stonewall an investigation that it requested,” said Nessel, who implored the university’s board of trustees to release the documents during her news conference.

In a brief statement, Michigan State board chair Dianne Byrum said trustees would “discuss the issue further in the coming weeks.”

Thursday’s charges and Geddert’s death mark perhaps one of the last chapters in the years-long fallout over the serial predation by Nassar, who assaulted hundreds of girls and several Olympic stars, often under the guise of medical treatment. Nassar, 57, is serving an effective life sentence between federal child pornography convictions and state convictions for sexually assaulting children.

The revelation of his crimes led to the resignations of leadership at Michigan State, USA Gymnastics and the USOPC and a $500 million settlement between Nassar’s victims and Michigan State. Geddert is among five people who were charged with crimes relating to Nassar’s abuses, a list that includes former Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon, as well as the school’s former medical school dean and gymnastics coach. The charges against Simon were later dismissed.

Angie Povilaitis, the lead prosecutor in the Nassar case, spoke to victims of coaching abuse in a tweet following news of Geddert’s suicide, writing: “A lot of folks may not realize how heavy & hard today’s news of John Geddert’s suicide is [for] many victims or former gymnasts. Speaking to them directly: HE made his decisions & choices-ALL OF THEM. None of the weight of his choices or burdens should be yours to [bear].”

During Nassar’s sentencing hearing in 2018, former gymnast Makayla Thrush said in a victim’s impact statement that Geddert, her former coach at Twistars, told her to kill herself on multiple occasions. Geddert was named in the lawsuit against Nassar, Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics but wasn’t facing criminal abuse charges at the time.

“Do you remember the time when you got so mad at me — I don’t even know why; that is just who you are — and you threw me on top of the low bar, ruptured the lymph nodes in my neck, gave me a black eye and tore the muscles in my stomach? Well, you did, and that ended my career, John,” Thrush said at the hearing.

“You told me to kill myself — not just once, but many other times. And unfortunately I let you get the best of me, because after you ended my career, I tried.”

Liz Clarke contributed to this report.

If you or someone you know needs help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255). You can also text a crisis counselor by messaging the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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