When former gymnast Sarah Klein first learned that the former Olympics coach John Geddert had been charged with human trafficking and sexual assault, she felt relieved.
Klein, who trained under Geddert for more than a decade, says the coach “physically, verbally, emotionally and psychologically abused me” starting around 1988, when she was eight. The announcement of criminal charges Thursday felt like a “full-circle moment,” she said.
But a short time later, when Geddert killed himself, Klein felt gutted.
“It is devastating. It is traumatizing,” she said in an interview Friday. “But there is no greater admission of guilt than John Geddert taking his own life. It was his final act of narcissistic control with which he lived his life and coached his gymnasts for decades.”
“John Geddert has always been above the law and the rules have never applied to him,” she added, saying she believes his final act was “intended to be an insult to his victims.”
Geddert, who lived in Michigan, faced 24 charges that could have led to up to life in prison if he had been convicted. He was supposed to appear in an Eaton County court near Lansing, but his body was found at a rest area along Interstate 96, according to authorities.
“This is a tragic end to a tragic story for everyone involved,” Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel said Thursday afternoon.
The office for Geddert’s attorney declined to comment Friday.
The charges were the latest chapter in a sexual abuse scandal that has roiled U.S. gymnastics and largely revolves around Dr. Larry Nassar, the former Michigan State University sports doctor who is serving up to 175 years in prison.
Geddert was linked to Nassar, who served as the Olympic team’s doctor and treated injured gymnasts at the former’s gym in the Lansing area.
Klein, 41, who says she was sexually assaulted by Nassar, said she had been waiting for Geddert to face justice “for a long time.” She said she believes Nassar and Geddert enabled each other for many years.
“There would not be a Larry Nassar without John Geddert, and there would not have been a John Geddert without Larry Nassar,” said Klein, a Philadelphia-based attorney who represents survivors of sexual abuse.
Geddert had denied any knowledge of Nasser’s abuse of athletes.
The news of Geddert’s suicide was wrenching, she said.
“I do not feel closure whatsoever,” she said, likening the experience to feeling as if her legs had been cut off.
Sarah Klein as a young gymnast.Courtesy Sarah Klein
In the absence of a criminal trial for Geddert, Klein said she hopes that USA Gymnastics, the national governing body of gymnastics, and the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee (USOPC), are both “held to account.”
“What else has to happen to us for them to say, ‘We are going to be transparent. We are going to be accountable, and the responsibility of what happened to you on our watch was ours and we failed you,’” Klein said.
In a statement after Geddert’s death, USA Gymnastics said: “We had hoped that news of the criminal charges being brought against John Geddert would lead to justice through the legal process.
“With the news of his death by suicide, we share the feelings of shock, and our thoughts are with the gymnastics community as they grapple with the complex emotions of this week’s events.”
In a separate statement, USOPC chief executive Sarah Hirshland said: “It’s the voices of the survivors that matter most at this time. They continue to show bravery and strength in the most difficult circumstances — including today’s events.”
Geddert’s suicide also robbed investigators of a potential source of information into Nasser’s other enablers, said Dmitriy Shakhnevich, a New York City-based lawyer and professor of Constitutional law at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
“In terms of his usefulness in this case, obviously his death is a big loss,” said Shakhnevich. “It seems clear that Nasser was the big fish here and that people like (Geddert) played lesser roles. But you never know. He might have been able to tell investigators more.”
Shakhnevich said that the gymnasts’ laser-like focus on becoming the best is what made them “perfect victims for the folks who are in power in that world.”
“[The gymnasts] are forced to balance their goals and dreams with doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s devastating.”
Klein described Geddert as “the worst human being I could ever imagine.”
“If I had a choice, I would choose the 17 years of almost daily sexual abuse at the hands of Larry Nassar than spending one more day with John Geddert.
“In my view, and I believe in the view of many of Geddert’s gymnasts, what he did to us was far worse and far more traumatizing than having a grown man digitally penetrate you almost daily,” Klein said. “He psychologically broke us. He physically hurt us. He shamed us. He terrified us and terrorized us in a way that will affect us for the entirety of our lives.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources. The national human trafficking toll-free 24-hour hotline is 1-888-373-7888. Authorities urge those who suspect trafficking to also contact local police.