Investigators say that former Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert sexually assaulted a 14-year-old and routinely abused his gymnasts physically and verbally, leading multiple gymnasts to attempt suicide, according to court documents obtained by ESPN.
Geddert was charged with 24 felonies Thursday morning, including multiple counts of human trafficking and sexual assault. Hours later, he was found dead in his car at an interstate highway rest stop. Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel confirmed that his death was by suicide. Geddert was 63.
Geddert coached the 2012 Olympic team to a gold medal in London and worked closely with disgraced national team doctor Larry Nassar for more than a quarter century. Among the charges against Geddert was a claim that he lied to police about his knowledge of Nassar’s serial sexual abuse, much of which took place in the gym that Geddert owned, Twistars USA Gymnastics Club.
When the news broke of Geddert’s suicide, the gymnastics community reacted with a mix of shock and anger, stemming largely from a concern that Geddert’s alleged crimes would not be revealed in full during his criminal trial and his victims would not have an opportunity to get some form of closure.
“Someone who cannot own up to their actions, especially actions that have negatively affected young children into their adult lives forever, is the biggest coward there is,” said Lindsey Hull, who trained with Geddert at Twistars and says she was sexually assaulted by Nassar on hundreds of occasions at the club. “The case is considered done, but we’ll never have an actual ending. Only what we can assume.” ESPN has obtained a court document, first reported by Detroit News, that reveals at least some of the information which might have come out in open court, had Geddert not taken his own life. The allegations detailed by a special investigator with the Michigan attorney general’s office paint a picture of a coach who routinely terrorized and assaulted young girls at his gym.
In court testimony Wednesday morning, the investigator detailed Geddert’s alleged sexual assault of a 14-year-old gymnast. Geddert, the investigator said, followed the gymnast into the Twistars locker room after practice, threw her up against the wall, and groped and digitally penetrated her.
During the assault, Geddert leaned in and told the young gymnast: “This wouldn’t be happening if you just completed my assignment at practice like you were supposed to the day before,” the court document states.
The investigator told the court Wednesday that when the victim went home after practice, she found blood in her underwear, threw up several times and cried herself to sleep.
Multiple women told investigators they attempted suicide after years of trauma from training with Geddert. One of those women said Geddert ignored serious injuries on multiple occasions and forced her to continue practicing. She said at one point Geddert called her a “disrespectful bitch” and told her she “should climb off the top of the rafters of the gym, jump off and kill herself.”
Multiple others who were interviewed by investigators reported that they had heard Geddert tell them or other gymnasts to kill themselves.
A different gymnast told investigators that Geddert told her to lie about a suicide attempt because he was worried what it would do to his reputation and her ability to get a college scholarship. That former gymnast said she stopped eating for a while after routinely being criticized by Geddert for her weight. Her experience at the gym led her to suffer from panic attacks. After she attempted suicide, Geddert “required her to apologize to him” and decided that she should tell others that she was just having an allergic reaction, according to the investigator’s testimony.
Accounts from other gymnasts in the court documents show a pattern of Geddert downplaying serious injuries, pushing gymnasts to train in unsafe conditions, berating young girls for their weight and their intelligence, spitting in their faces and stomping on their bare feet when he was unhappy with their performance. Geddert’s coaching led many of those who were interviewed to develop disordered eating, panic attacks and self-harming behavior like cutting.
Geddert had been investigated by Michigan police as far back as November 2011. The parent of a Twistars gymnast, who also worked at the club, told state police that Geddert followed her into the parking lot after an argument during practice. The woman told police Geddert screamed obscenities at her, among other things calling her “white trailer trash” and assaulted her by stepping on her foot and chest bumping her.
In a second incident, in October 2013, an 11-year-old gymnast, Makayla Johnson, said Geddert grew furious when she failed to execute a routine, followed her into the locker room and proceeded to scream at her before twisting her arm and pushing her into a wall.
When Johnson’s grandmother, Jacqueline Hampton filed a report with state police, Larry Nassar sent her a text message on Geddert’s behalf, pleading with her to drop the case.
“Just ask to drop it, if you are not 100% sure you want to close John’s gym and have him banned from USAG for the rest of his life,” Nassar said in a text message, which she shared with ESPN.
Geddert was not charged with a crime after either the 2011 or 2013 incidents, but USA Gymnastics did hire a private investigator to look into claims about his coaching behavior. There is no record of Geddert being disciplined by USA Gymnastics at that time.
Johnson is now 18 and goes by Makayla Hampton. She told ESPN she was one of the former Twistar’s gymnasts referenced in Thursday’s hearing, during which the special investigator detailed Geddert’s alleged crimes. When asked about her reaction to Geddert’s suicide, Hampton said, “My heart breaks for the family, but it doesn’t change the fact that I didn’t get any closure from it.”
Hampton said she has suffered from anxiety for years since leaving Twistars and had steeled herself for the moment she would face Geddert inside a courtroom.
“It was something that I really wanted to do,” Hampton said. “There was really no other way I could tell my story than to his face. I thought it would give me the closure so I didn’t have to still keep him in my head.”
During a Thursday afternoon news conference prior to Geddert’s death, Michigan’s attorney general declined to go into further detail about the specifics of the case they were planning to present in court. She later called Geddert’s suicide “a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved.”
Sarah Klein, who trained with Geddert in the early 1990s and is one of the earliest known survivors of Nassar’s abuse, said Geddert was a “narcissistic abuser” whose behavior was enabled by USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee.
“The bravery of Geddert’s many victims will stand for all time in stark contrast to his cowardice,” Klein said Thursday night. “As a survivor and a mother of two young girls, my only comfort is in the knowledge that I can rest my head on the pillow every night knowing that John Geddert will never terrorize and abuse another child.”