GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The first voicemails were left in March at the building that used to house Aerials & Baranis Gymnastics north of Grand Rapids.
“They were some very disturbing calls that came in,” said Anna Williamson, the co-owner of Newton Aerial Academy, which now occupies the building where Aerials & Baranis once operated.
In the voicemail, a former student of Aerials & Baranis claimed she was sexually assaulted by an instructor some 15 years ago. The caller didn’t realize Aerials & Baranis closed more than two years ago, replaced by the unrelated Newton gym.
“It was very hard to listen to those phone calls, so we turned it over to the sheriff’s department,” Williamson said.
That led the Kent County Sheriff’s Office to Shannon Guay, 49, formerly of metro Grand Rapids but now living in Florida. He was arrested Wednesday in Punta Gorda, Florida, north of Fort Myers, on rape charges.
“We’re glad about that, really glad,” Williamson said of Guay’s arrest. “But I feel bad that something like that even happens. So sad.”
Investigators have identified five victims, all girls between the ages of 4 and 14 at the time of the alleged abuse. They believe some were assaulted between 2006 and 2008 while attending the now-defunct Aerials & Baranis on Coit Avenue near Plainfield Avenue in Plainfield Township, where Guay worked as a coach.
“We do believe contact was made with at least two of the victims through this place of business and then they made contact other places…” Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young said at a Thursday morning news conference. “And (Guay) otherwise knew three additional victims, not from the business.”
The sheriff’s office said the assaults happened at three different places in Kent County.
“There’s a variety of reasons that victims of criminal sexual conduct are inclined not to come forward (immediately), especially when there’s a minor involved. It takes quite a bit of guts to come forward and say, ‘This has happened to me,’ and maybe be exposed to some scrutiny and certainly reliving some occurrences that may have happened to them,” LaJoye-Young said. “I admire the courage of these young women to take a step forward and say, ‘This happened to me and I need to do something about it.'”
The Kent County Prosecutor’s Office issued 12 criminal counts against Guay in three separate cases. The charges include six counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct and six counts of second-degree CSC. If convicted, he faces up to life in prison.
Deputies from Charlotte County, Florida, arrested Guay on the Kent County warrant. LaJoye-Young said he did not resist. The Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office posted video online of Guay being taken into custody, barefoot and wearing sweatpants and a bathrobe.
It’s not yet clear when he will return to Michigan; Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said it would depend on whether he raised legal objections to extradition or agreed to come back.
The sheriff’s office said the case remains open. Since Guay was a coach, investigators believe there may be more victims. Anyone with information is asked to call the sheriff’s department’s detective bureau at 616.632.6125 or Silent Observer at 616.774.2345.
“In any case such as this, that’s one of the concerns we have. We want to make sure that the case is publicized enough so that individuals who may have also been victimized know to come forward and talk to us about the incidents that happened,” LaJoye-Young said.
Guay worked as a coach and lived in Kent County until around 2010, after which he lived in other states, the sheriff’s office said. LaJoye-Young said that investigators would be reaching out to other places where he lived so they could look into any possible cases in their jurisdictions.
Target 8 reported in October 2011 that one of the coaches at Aerials & Baranis — Paul Hagan, the then-owner’s husband — was still working despite a 1994 conviction for inappropriately touching a gymnast. Investigators said they were looking into whether there may be any connection between the cases but so far didn’t have any evidence either way.
“At this point in time, we can’t say that it was facilitated or made possible because of a person who was married (to the then-owner) or was working there,” Becker said.
Williamson said Aerials & Baranis closed during the pandemic and reopened. She and her partner opened the new Newton Aerial Academy in 2021. Guay has no ties to Newton Aerial Academy. The prosecutor praised Newton for calling in authorities when it learned something wrong may have happened under the previous owners.