Former US Olympics women’s gymnastics coach John Geddert died by suicide Thursday, his body found hours after he was charged with human trafficking and abuse of athletes in his care.
“My office has been notified that the body of John Geddert was found late this afternoon after taking his own life,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said in a statement.
“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved.”
Hours earlier Nessel had announced a 24-count criminal complaint against Geddert, who owned an elite training facility near Lansing, Michigan, where convicted sex offender Larry Nassar served as the gym doctor.
In addition to two sexual assault charges involving an unnamed athlete between the ages of 13 and 16, 20 counts of human trafficking and forced labour were the result of Geddert’s alleged coercive and abusive coaching practices “as he reportedly subjected his athletes to forced labour or services under extreme conditions that contributed to them suffering injuries and harm.”
“Geddert then neglected those injuries that were reported to him by the victims and used coercion, intimidation, threats and physical force to get them to perform to the standard he expected,” prosecutors said.
Nessel had said at a press conference streamed on social media Thursday morning that Geddert, 63, was expected to surrender to authorities at 2:15 pm on Thursday to be arraigned on the charges.
However, Michigan State Police said that his body was found at a highway rest area outside Lansing at 3:24 pm.
“Investigation is ongoing; no further details will be released at this time,” the police statement said.
Geddert coached the US women’s gymnastics team to gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
He came under scrutiny because of his close personal and professional relationship with Nassar, the former US national team doctor sentenced to life in prison over the sexual abuse of multiple young female gymnasts over almost three decades under the guise of medical treatment.
A personal coach to US gymnast Jordyn Wieber and owner of the Twistars training facility, Geddert was accused by many Nassar victims of requiring them to be treated by the disgraced doctor, who was convicted of multiple sexual assault charges and finally incarcerated in federal prison in 2018.
USA Gymnastics suspended Geddert in 2018, the year after he insisted he had “zero knowledge” of Nassar’s crimes, and he immediately retired.
Rachael Denhollander, a former gymnast who in 2016 was the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault, tweeted Thursday that Geddert’s abusive behavior was widely known as early as 2000.
“Geddert’s abuse, like so much, was never a secret. EVER,” she tweeted.
“In my memoir I wrote about knowing of it even as a club level gymnast in 2000. Because we have to grapple with the reality that it was known, and no one stopped him. It was known, and he was promoted and given more power.”
Verbal, physical, sexual abuse
In three weeks of sentencing hearings for Nassar, in which some 200 women, girls and victims’ families confronted him, Twistars gymnasts said they had endured physical and verbal abuse by Geddert.
Prosecutors stressed on Thursday that the only charge against Geddert specifically linked to Nassar was that of lying to authorities when asked whether he knew the doctor was sexually abusing athletes.
Otherwise, they said, “the crimes alleged against Mr Geddert are his own.”
“These allegations focus on multiple acts of verbal, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by the defendant against multiple victims,” Nessel said of charges stemming from incidents between 2008 and 2018.
“I am grateful for these survivors coming forward to cooperate with our investigation and for bravely sharing their stories.”
Geddert was also charged with racketeering, with prosecutors alleging he trafficked 15 athletes for financial gain and with lying to authorities investigating Nassar.
Nessel acknowledged that the forced labor-human trafficking charges “have not typically been used and applied to the set of circumstances that I think exist in this case.”
But, she said, months of reviewing case law convinced prosecutors they were applicable.
“The victims suffer from disordered eating, including bulimia and anorexia, suicide attempts and self-harm,” Nessel said, adding that Geddert subjected his gymnasts to “excessive physical conditioning, repeatedly being forced to perform even while injured, extreme emotional abuse and physical abuse, including sexual assault.”