Mid-Michigan Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert dies by suicide after charges filed

Michigan

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS/AP/WOOD) — The same day two dozen criminal charges were levied against him, 2012 USA Olympic coach John Geddert was found dead of suicide near Lansing.

Michigan State Police said in a tweet that the 63-year-old Geddert’s body was found by troopers at the rest area on eastbound I-96 in Clinton County around 3:20 p.m. Thursday. Authorities told WLNS, WOOD TV8’s Lansing sister station, that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

His death came only hours after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office issued 24 felony charges against him:

  • 14 counts of human trafficking, forced labor causing injury, a 15-year felony
  • Six counts of human trafficking of a minor for forced labor, a 20-year felony
  • One count of continuing criminal enterprise, a 20-year felony
  • One count of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, a life offense felony
  • One count of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, a 15-year felony
  • One count of lying to a peace officer during a violent crime investigation, a four-year felony 

Court documents outlining the charges allege forced labor by Geddert, saying he threatened them with harm to train and made money as a result. The CSC cases involve a victim between the ages of 13 and 16.

“These allegations focus around multiple acts of verbal, physical and sexual abuse perpetrated by the defendant against multiple young women. I am grateful for these survivors coming forward to cooperate with our investigation and for bravely sharing their stories,” Nessel said at a Thursday afternoon press conference before Geddert’s body was found.

“The victims suffer from disordered eating,” Nessel continued, “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 behavior to this day,” the attorney general said.

Nessel acknowledged that the case might not fit the common understanding of human trafficking.

“We think of it predominantly as affecting people of color 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 well-being of their families.”

Geddert was expected to turn himself in for arraignment Thursday. His body was discovered after he failed to do so. His attorney had no comment when contacted by WLNS.

After learning about Geddert’s death, Nessel released a statement calling it a “tragic end to a tragic story.”

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 “traumatizing 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 disgraced sports doctor Larry 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.”

Geddert ran Twistars gymnastics club near Lansing for many years and coached the USA Gymnastics team to a gold medal in 2012. The “Fierce Five,” which included DeWitt, Michigan, native Jordyn Wieber, won the team competition at the London Olympics.

But Geddert’s reputation later came under fire because of his association with Nassar, a doctor who was accused of sexually abusing hundreds of young women, almost all of them athletes, during his career. Nassar was also the Olympic team’s doctor in 2012.

Nassar pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges in Ingham and Eaton counties (Twistars was based in Eaton County and Nassar was accused of abusing some women and girls there) as well as federal child pornography charges. He is serving 60 years on the child porn charges at a high security federal prison in Florida with a scheduled release date of 2068. If the 57-year-old survives that sentence, he could face more than 100 years in a Michigan prison.

Wieber and several other members of the Fierce Five accused Nassar of molesting them. One of them, McKayla Maroney, says she told Geddert back in 2011 that Nassar had abused her, but that Geddert didn’t take any action.

“I wanted to see John punished -for years- but I never imagined something like this….It’s tragic. I feel for his family.”

Rita Wieber, mother of Jordyn Wieber, following Geddert’s death

Geddert had been under investigation for years — first by local and state officials and later by the Michigan AG, which took over the case two years ago. His former club and home were searched last year.

Police launched the investigations into him shortly after Nassar’s sentencing, in which some of the Nassar survivors accused Geddert of being physically and emotionally abusive. Former Twistars gymnasts also say Geddert required his athletes to see Nassar for treatment.

Criticized by his former students for his teaching and training methods, he was suspended by USA Gymnastics. He later sold the club and retired one day later.

“I know I’m not perfect,” he said in his retirement letter to his community in 2018. “Like all of our coaches, I am deeply committed to protecting the safety and well-being of our students. I know my shortcomings as a coach: I have high expectations and high standards and I am passionate about coaching our gymnasts to realize their full potential. Sometimes the intensity is challenging — both for our gymnasts and their coaches.”

“Everything about our work is about safe, successful gymnastics. That’s why I am so incredibly disappointed in USA Gymnastics’ recent letter and its false allegations that I have violated Safe Sport Policy,” the letter read.

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Fisher reported from WLNS in Lansing. White reported from Detroit. Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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