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Ex-USA Gymnastics coach kills self after charges

Former USA Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert died by suicide Thursday, hours after he was charged with two dozen crimes stemming from allegations that he physically, emotionally and sexually abused gymnasts under his care.

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed that Geddert took his own life Thursday afternoon, calling his death “a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved.”

Michigan state police confirmed that Geddert’s body was found at an interstate highway rest stop at 3:24 p.m. ET.

Geddert, 63, was scheduled to be arraigned in Eaton County, Michigan, on Thursday afternoon.

Michigan state officials charged Geddert with 24 felonies: 20 counts of human trafficking and forced labor, one count of first-degree sexual assault, one count of second-degree sexual assault, racketeering and lying to a police officer. A lawyer from the Michigan attorney general’s office also said Thursday that Geddert knew disgraced Team USA doctor Larry Nassar was sexually abusing patients at the gym where both men worked and lied to police about it during a 2016 investigation into Nassar.

The remainder of the charges against Geddert are all tied to his own behavior with gymnasts he coached at gyms he owned in Michigan. Law enforcement started investigating Geddert in February 2018 in the wake of complaints raised about his abusive coaching style during Nassar’s sentencing hearing.

Court documents released Thursday allege that, among other things, Geddert in January 2012 digitally penetrated a girl who was between the ages of 13 and 16.

Geddert previously owned Twistars USA Gymnastics in Dimondale, Michigan, just outside of Lansing, where dozens of women say they were sexually assaulted by Nassar under the guise of medical treatment. Geddert and Nassar worked side by side for more than a quarter-century while both rose to the pinnacle of elite gymnastics.

Geddert long has been viewed within the gymnastics community as one of Nassar’s chief enablers. As far back as the late 1980s, at Great Lakes Gymnastics Club in Lansing, before he was even a licensed physician, Nassar began sexually assaulting minor gymnasts on his training table, according to the accounts of multiple women.

Sarah Klein, who was coached by Geddert at Great Lakes Gymnastics, is one of the earliest known survivors of Nassar’s sexual abuse. When asked about her reaction to Geddert’s suicide, she said it was “traumatizing beyond words.”

“He tortured and abused little girls, myself included, for more than 30 years and was able to cheat justice,” Klein said. “Geddert was a narcissistic abuser. His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see.”

Geddert rose to national prominence in the early 2000s and was named the U.S. national team coach for the 2012 London Olympics. His role as a national coach led him to travel around the globe with America’s top gymnasts. Many of those gymnasts, including all members of the famed Fierce Five who won gold in London, say Nassar abused them during their international trips.

Former Olympian McKayla Maroney says she was in a car with Geddert on one such international trip, in Tokyo during the 2011 World Championships. During the car ride Maroney gave a graphic description of how Nassar had touched her inappropriately during a treatment session the night before, according to multiple people who overheard her remarks. Geddert didn’t react at the time, according to the accounts of the passengers in the car, but had since denied overhearing Maroney’s comments.

USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert during Nassar’s sentencing hearing in January 2018 amid a flood of public complaints from former gymnasts about his abusive coaching style. Geddert announced he was retiring from coaching days after he was suspended by USA Gymnastics. He transferred ownership of Twistars USA to his wife and coaching partner in 2018. The gym was sold to new owners earlier this month.

Geddert was the fifth person to face criminal charges that stem from the Nassar case. Former USA Gymnastics CEO Steve Penny was arrested on evidence tampering charges in 2018. At Michigan State, where Nassar was employed, former president Lou Anna Simon, former medical school dean William Strampel and former gymnastics coach Kathie Klages were all charged with crimes. Strampel, Nassar’s former boss, was charged with misconduct in office and willful neglect of duty and served eight months of a one-year prison sentence before he was released last spring. Klages was found guilty of lying to police in August 2020 and sentenced to 90 days in jail. Charges of lying to police against Simon were dismissed in May 2020, but the attorney general’s office is appealing that decision, Nessel said Thursday.

Nassar, 57, is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence for child pornography charges at a federal prison near Orlando, Florida, but he also faces an additional maximum of up to 175 years in prison for his sentencings on state charges in Ingham and Eaton County, Michigan. Earlier this month, Nassar appealed his case to the Michigan Supreme Court. Nessel said Thursday that Nassar’s trial court sentence should stand, describing it as “a fair and just sentence.”

Nassar’s sentencing hearing attracted international attention as more than 150 women and girls made impact statements in the courtroom. Many of them said Geddert’s abusive coaching style drove them to seek comfort from the more docile Nassar, who then used that trust to sexually assault them. Lindsey Hull, who competed at Twistars and at Michigan State under her maiden name Lindsey Lemke, said during that sentencing hearing that Geddert belonged behind bars along with Nassar. On Thursday, she said her initial reaction to Geddert’s death was that he “took the easy way out.”

“We can assume this stems from him being guilty and knowing he was guilty,” Hull said. “The hardest part about this is that we’ll never know. … The amount of work that the AG’s office has had to put in for over the past three years to finally get to this day, all for nothing. The case is considered done, but we’ll never have an actual ending.”

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