LANSING, Mich. (AP) – A former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach linked to sports physician Larry Nassar committed suicide Thursday, hours after being accused of turning his Michigan gym into a human trafficking hub by force girls to train and then abuse them. .
John Geddert faced 24 charges that could have led to years in prison had he been convicted. He was supposed to appear in court in Eaton County, near Lansing, but his body was found in a rest area along Interstate 96, according to state police.
“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” said Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel.
Nessel previously announced that Geddert was charged with loads of crimes, including sexual assault, human trafficking and running a criminal company. The charges were the last consequences of the sexual abuse scandal involving Nassar, a former Michigan State University sports doctor now in prison.
Geddert, 63, was not arrested or taken to court. Rather, Nessel’s office allowed him to appear on his own.
“We had no indication that Geddert intended to run away or hurt himself or others. We were in contact with his attorney and he was assured of his cooperation, ”said Nessel spokeswoman Kelly Rossman-McKinney.
Calls seeking comment from attorney Chris Bergstrom were not immediately returned.
Geddert was the head coach of the 2012 United States Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team, which won a gold medal. He was long associated with Nassar, who was the Olympic team 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 hearing complaints about Nassar. But most of the case against him had to do with his gym in Dimondale and how he treated young athletes whose families paid to train with him.
The charges against Geddert had “very little to do” with Nassar, said Assistant Attorney General Danielle Hagaman-Clark.
Geddert was accused of using his solid reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by earning money through the forced labor of young athletes.
“Victims suffer from eating disorders,” Nessel said, “which include bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm attempts, excessive physical conditioning, being repeatedly forced to act even when injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including assault. sexual.
“Many of these victims still bear these scars from this behavior to this day,” the attorney general said.
Nessel acknowledged that the case may not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.
“We think it predominantly affects people of color or people without means to protect themselves … but honestly, it can happen to anyone, anywhere,” he said. “Impressionable young women can sometimes be vulnerable and open to trafficking offenses, regardless of their stature in the community or the financial well-being of their families.”
Geddert was suspended by Indianapolis-based USA Gymnastics during the Nassar scandal. He told families in 2018 that he was retiring.
On his LinkedIn page, Geddert described himself as the “most decorated women’s gymnastics coach in the history of Michigan gymnastics.” 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 with Geddert for more than 10 years and was assaulted by Nassar, said the coach’s death was an “escape from justice” and “unspeakable trauma.”
“His suicide is an admission of guilt that now the whole world can see,” said Klein, an attorney.
Rachael Denhollander, the first gymnast to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual abuse in 2016, said she was proud of the women who stepped up against Geddert.
“So much pain and pain for everyone,” he said on Twitter after his death. “For the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we support you.”
White reported from Detroit.
Nichols is a member of the staff of the Associated Press / Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a non-profit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on uncovered topics.