Gymnasts, officials, activists respond to Geddert's death: 'God is his Judge'

Sarah Rahal, The Detroit News
·5 min read

Feb. 26—Prominent gymnasts, activists and officials spoke about the tragedy of John Geddert's death and the anguish it caused for victims of the former U.S. Olympics gymnastics coach, who died Thursday from suicide and had ties to disgraced sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar.

Former athletes and activists said Geddert's suicide showed cowardice by avoiding facing criminal charges in court and would prolong the pain of survivors looking to get justice after suffering from abuse.

Geddert's body was found by Michigan State Police troopers at the rest area on eastbound Interstate 96 in Clinton County at 3:24 p.m. Thursday, hours after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel filed human trafficking, sexual assault and racketeering charges against him.

"This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved," Nessel said in a statement.

The 24 charges against Geddert included 20 counts of human trafficking of a minor, and one count each of first-degree criminal sexual assault, second-degree criminal sexual assault involving a minor, racketeering and lying to a police officer, according to Eaton County District Court records.

A woman on Twitter Thursday indicated that she hoped Nassar's judge, Rosemarie Aquilina, would be the judge to hear Geddert's case.

Aquilina tweeted in response, "Geddert committed suicide. God is his Judge..."

Sarah Klein, who trained under Geddert for 10 years starting when she was 5, portrayed his act as an "escape from justice" and "an admission of guilt" before he could face his reckoning.

"John Geddert's escape from justice by committing suicide is traumatizing beyond words," Klein said. "He tortured and abused little girls, myself included, for more than 30 years and was able to cheat justice.

"Geddert was a narcissistic abuser. His suicide is an admission of guilt that the entire world can now see. The bravery of Geddert's many victims will stand for all time in stark contrast to his cowardice. A tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved."

The death brought "so much pain and grief for everyone," tweeted Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse Nassar of sexual assault.

"To the survivors, you have been heard and believed, and we stand with you. Thank you for telling the truth. What you have done matters. Please stay safe, you are loved and wanted here," she said.

Before Geddert was found dead but after charges had been filed, Denhollander tweeted that "Geddert's abuse, like so much, was never a secret. EVER."

"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."

Others were more hesitant to speak out. Two-time Olympic gold champion Laurie Hernandez tweeted "oh." Hundreds of fans replied to the tweet sharing their support, but minutes after posting, the 20-year-old gymnast deleted it.

Angela Povilaitis, a former Michigan assistant attorney general who prosecuted Nassar, said many people may not realize how heavy and hard the day was for many victims or former gymnasts.

"Speaking to them directly: HE made his decisions & choices-ALL OF THEM. None of the weight of his choices or burdens should be yours to bare," Povilaitis tweeted Thursday. "Just know. You are NEVER alone. There is always someone here to listen, to talk to, to connect with, to help. We have amazing folks at the Michigan Sexual Assault Hotline who are trained & ready to help ANYONE impacted by today's news. 855-VOICES4."

Three-time Olympian Dominique Dawes spent 10 years as a member of the U.S. national gymnastics team. She said the news of Geddert's charges was "Sickening, but not surprising at all."

"This is why I started my own gymnastics academy — to protect your kids and mine," Dawes shared on Facebook. "Sadly more stories of predators like this monster will come out. Parents, don't be deceived by the titles, fame and outward successes when at the root of their desire is greed, money and medals."

Denhollander's husband, Jacob Denhollander, who stood beside his wife's side throughout the weeks of Nassar impact statements, said people shouldn't say the victims "can't get justice."

"Geddert has gone out on his own cowardly terms," he tweeted. "Justice was never simply about seeing him in jail, but condemning and reforming the mindset and culture of secrets that covered his abuse. We can still give them that."

Amanda Smith, a former gymnast who gave an impact statement against Nassar in 2018, tweeted Thursday: "I can't even comprehend the emotions I have about all of this. What lifetime movie am I living in(?)"

A Lansing nonprofit that supports victims of sexual abuse and "gender-based violence" put out a statement that emphasized that the impact of the abuse athletes say they suffered will last long after Geddert's death.

"It is important to understand that today's news neither heals the harm, nor guarantees safety to the people left in the former coach's destructive wake," Survivor Strong said in a statement.

"When people refuse to practice accountability for harm they commit, the community must intervene to prevent further destruction. Today's news serves as a reminder that while headlines and documentaries fade from the spotlight, the effects of these abusive and selfish acts will be felt by many for decades to come."

Another Nassar victim sought to comfort accusers of Geddert by letting them know she realized they wouldn't get their day in court.

"Part of my closure was submitting my victim impact statement and hearing the justice system say 'I believe you' through the act of convicting," tweeted Grace French, the founder and president of @survivorsarmy. "My heart hurts for those who do not get that opportunity. Know I believe you. You are worthy of justice. Whatever that means to you."

srahal@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @SarahRahal_