Another wave of victims confronts disgraced sports doctor
CHARLOTTE, Mich. — Another wave of victims confronted disgraced former gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at his third and final sentencing hearing Wednesday, this time about sexual abuse at an elite Michigan club run by an Olympic coach.
The judge presiding over the case said the number of people who allege they were abused by Nassar has climbed to 265. That total includes 150-plus victims who offered statements at a hearing last week, as well as scores of new ones expected to speak over the next few days.
Nassar, who has been sentenced on federal child-pornography charges and charges that he abused young women and girls while working at Michigan State University, faces another long prison sentence on top of the two he has received.
“You are the most vile, disgusting creature I have ever met,” said Katherine Ebert, who was a gymnast from 5 to 18 and started seeing Nassar at 15. “There are black holes in my memory that come back as nightmares or flashbacks, not wanting to believe they’re true.”
Nassar, once the doctor for the national gymnastics team, sat at a table with his lawyers as accusers rebuked him.
“You took advantage of my innocence and trust,” 17-year-old Jessica Thomashow said. “You were my doctor. Why? I ask myself that question all the time. What you did to me was twisted. You manipulated me and my entire family. How dare you.”
Continuing event: Judge Janice Cunningham has set aside several days for more than 60 victims who want to confront Nassar or have their statement read in the courtroom in Charlotte, a city outside Lansing.
The event could unfold much the same as last week’s proceedings in another county. That hearing ended with Nassar getting to 40 to 175 years in prison, a sentence that judge described as Nassar’s “death warrant.”
The case on Cunningham’s docket in Eaton County centers on Nassar’s assaults at Twistars, a Lansing-area gymnastics club that was run by 2012 Olympic coach John Geddert. Nassar admits penetrating three girls with his hands when he was supposed to be treating them for injuries.
Annie Labrie said what Nassar did to her made her “skin crawl,” but every adult around her assured her he was the only option, and she hid the abuse from her parents. She said Nassar’s pedophilia was not an isolated incident, and gymnastics and gyms like Twistars have a “specific culture” that allows people like him to flourish.
The doctor’s accusers include Olympic champions Simone Biles, Gabby Douglas and other top gymnasts.
Opportunity missed: A nearby police department admitted that it missed an opportunity to pursue charges against Nassar in 2004.
After a 17-year-old girl complained that Nassar removed her underwear and touched her genitals and breast, Meridian Township police began investigating. But officers dropped the case after Nassar explained that he was performing a legitimate technique known as a ligament release. Nassar even provided a Power Point presentation.
Township Manager Frank Walsh said Nassar deceived police.
“We missed it. We’re not going to hide it,” Walsh said.
Interim president named: Also Wednesday, former Michigan Gov. John Engler was formally named interim president at Michigan State, following Lou Anna Simon’s resignation last week from the school’s top post. Engler will head the school as it deals with lawsuits filed by more than 100 abuse victims and investigations by the state attorney general, the NCAA and Congress.
Engler, a Republican who was governor from 1990 through 2002, said he would strive to lead the school without regard to politics.
“I think we start from the standpoint: How do we change things?” he said. “That starts today.”
Trustees also named another former governor, Democrat Jim Blanchard, to advise the school on lawsuits and investigations.
Gymnastics shakeup: Elsewhere, the governing body for American gymnastics announced that every member of its board of directors has resigned.
The resignations at USA Gymnastics come less than a week after the U.S. Olympic Committee urged the board to step down over the widening Nassar allegations. The organization plans to appoint an interim board in February.