A former US Olympics gymnastics coach killed himself on Thursday, hours after being charged with turning his gym into a hub of human trafficking.
John Geddert, 63, was facing 24 charges including sexual assault, human trafficking, and running a criminal enterprise.
He had ties to disgraced Michigan State University sports doctor Larry Nassar, who is in jail for a series of sexual assaults.
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.
Expected to appear at court near Lansing on Thursday, Geddert’s body was found at a rest area on a motorway.
“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said.
While among the charges was an accusation Geddert lied to investigators in 2016 when he denied hearing complaints about Nassar, 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.
Geddert was charged with using his strong reputation in gymnastics to commit a form of human trafficking by making money through the forced labor 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 that 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 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.
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.”
“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.