A former United States Olympics gymnastics coach with ties to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar killed himself on Thursday, hours after being charged with turning his Michigan gym into a hub of human trafficking by coercing girls to train and then abusing them.
John Geddert faced 24 charges that could have carried years in prison had he been convicted. He was supposed to appear in an Eaton County court, near Lansing, but his body was found at a rest area along Interstate 96, according to state police.
“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.
Nessel earlier announced Geddert was charged with several crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal enterprise. The charges were the latest fallout from the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison.
Geddert, 63, was not arrested and transported to court. Rather, Nessel’s office allowed him to show up on his own.
“We had no indication that Geddert intended to flee or hurt himself or others. We had been in contact with his attorney and were assured of his cooperation,” Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney said.
Calls seeking comment from lawyer Chris Bergstrom were not immediately returned.
Geddert was head coach of the 2012 US women’s Olympic gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He was long associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team’s doctor and also treated injured gymnasts at Twistars, Geddert’s Lansing-area gym.
Among the charges, Geddert was accused of lying to investigators in 2016 when he denied ever hearing complaints about Nassar. But the bulk of the case against him involved his gym in Dimondale and how he treated the young athletes whose families paid to have them train under him.
The charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar, said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark.
Geddert was charged with using his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labour of young athletes.
“The victims suffer from disordered eating,” Nessel said, “including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and attempts at self-harm, excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault.
“Many of these victims still carry these scars from this behaviour to this day,” the attorney general said.
Nessel acknowledged the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.
“We think of it predominantly as affecting people of colour or those without means to protect themselves … but honestly it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” she said. “Young impressionable women may at times be vulnerable and open to trafficking crimes, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial wellbeing of their families.”
Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. He told families in 2018 that he was retiring.
Victims and others look on as Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, speaks at the sentencing hearing for Larry Nassar [File: Brendan McDermid/Reuters]USA Gymnastics said in a statement late on Thursday news about the 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 organisation said.
On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in Michigan gymnastics history”. He said his Twistars teams won 130 club championships.
But Geddert was often portrayed in unflattering ways when Nassar’s victims spoke during court hearings in 2018. Some insisted he was aware of the doctor’s abuse.
Sarah Klein, a gymnast who trained under Geddert for more than 10 years and was assaulted by Nassar, said the coach’s death was an “escape from justice” and “traumatising beyond words”.
“His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see,” said Klein, a lawyer.
Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, said she was proud of the women who stepped forward against Geddert.
“So much pain and grief for everyone,” she said on Twitter after his death. “To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you.”
So much pain and grief for everyone.
To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you. Thank you for telling the truth. What you have done matters.
Please stay safe, you are loved and wanted here. https://t.co/7EP9cJ13fa
— Rachael Denhollander (@R_Denhollander) February 25, 2021