As Larissa Boyce watched the past week unfold — the growing number of news trucks parked outside the courthouse, the surging public interest in disgraced gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and his sex abuse victims, and the calls from lawmakers for resignations and investigations — one word repeated through her mind, encapsulating both relief and frustration.
“Finally,” Boyce said Thursday. “Finally, somebody is listening to our cries for help.”
Boyce, a 37-year-old mother of four, is one of the 156 women and girls whose testimony over the course of seven days, coupled with a review of documents produced in litigation, offered the most complete picture to date of how a man a prosecutor called “possibly the most prolific serial child sex abuser in history” avoided the inside of a jail cell for so long.
Between 1995 and 2015, according to testimony and court filings, 13 girls and women claim they raised complaints about Nassar, who continued to treat — and assault — his patients until the 14th went to law enforcement, and then to the Indianapolis Star, in August 2016.
It’s a timeline of people and organizations accused of failure to aggressively respond to suspicions of abuse that includes institutions under fire this week: Michigan State University, USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic Committee, but also the FBI, a local police force, a local gymnastics center, and the parents of several victims, along with others they say they consulted before deciding not to contact law enforcement.
“I think it was the perfect storm of sorts, of ineptitude, inaction, and willful neglect,” said John Manly, a California attorney representing more than 100 victims.
For victims such as Boyce, however, the timeline extends past the fall of 2016 — when Nassar was arrested — and runs right up until the past week, when the first few days of tearful testimony triggered the national outpouring, and furor from Congress, that she and others expected a year earlier.
“We’ve felt like we’ve been fighting this battle for the last 14 or 15 months, just to try to get somebody to listen to us,” she said. “Why did it have to take that long for people to understand what happened here?”
A review of the timeline of accusations doesn’t answer that question, but does show the many people and organizations who may have had a chance to stop Nassar earlier, and didn’t.
1995: Donna Markham claims her 10-year-old daughter, Chelsea, told her, after visiting Nassar for treatment for back pain, that “he put his fingers in me, and they weren’t gloved.” Markham was ready “to drive across the median” to turn around and confront Nassar, she said in court last week, but her daughter begged her not tell anyone, out of fear it would negatively impact her gymnastics career. She said she mentioned the incident to a gymnastics coach who expressed doubt it had happened.
Chelsea Markham committed suicide in 2009, at the age of 23.
1997: Boyce, then a 16-year-old in a Michigan State youth gymnastics program, claims she told Kathie Klages, the university’s longtime gymnastics coach, that Nassar digitally penetrated her during medical treatment. Klages expressed doubt and called in other young gymnasts, Boyce said, asking if anyone else had experienced similar conduct by Nassar. The coach also brought in collegiate gymnasts, Boyce said, who suggested she was misinterpreting a procedure Nassar performed on nerve endings in the pelvic area.
One other girl, who was 14 at the time and wishes to remain anonymous, also came forward that night with concerns about Nassar’s treatment, according to Boyce and her attorney, who also represents the other accuser.
At one point, Boyce said, Klages waved a piece of paper in the air — she believes it was some type of complaint form — and discouraged them from filing a report.
“Instead of being protected, I was humiliated,” Boyce said. “I was brainwashed into believing that I was the problem.”
The other girl that day testified in court last week as Victim 55. Nassar nodded in recognition when she addressed him.
“I never questioned why he always asked the nurses and residents to leave the room, even though he was a teaching doctor” she said. “We grew up watching MSU promote and glorify a pedophile.”
In court filings, Michigan State’s attorney has said the school has been unable to either prove or disprove these claims.
1998: The anonymous mother of a young gymnast at Twistars, a Lansing, Michigan-area gym run by 2012 Olympic gymnastics coach John Geddert, claims she was told by her daughter that Nassar had touched her in the vaginal area. The mother informed Geddert, she said, that she would no longer permit Nassar to treat her child.
The same year, a 12-year-old girl identified in a lawsuit against Twistars as Jane A71 Doe alleges she complained vaguely to an unnamed coach that Nassar was doing “inappropriate things.”
In court filings, Twistars has denied these claims, and Geddert has denied any knowledge of Nassar’s abuse. This week, USA Gymnastics announced it had suspended Geddert’s membership, pending a disciplinary investigation. A day later, Geddert announced through a letter to gym members he was retiring, while denouncing USA Gymnastics’ decision.
1999: Lindsey Schuett said she was 16 when she sought treatment from Nassar and she “knew immediately that it was abuse.” She told her mother, she said, and a school counselor, but Nassar convinced them she misunderstood a legitimate treatment. Her mother sent her back to Nassar for more treatment.
“I felt like I was trapped in some hellish situation that only a movie could dream up,” said Schuett, now 34, in her videotaped impact statement, which she sent from South Korea, where she now lives.
“I told myself to forget,” Schuett said. “I told myself that I had to be the only one.”
The same year, former Michigan State cross-country runner Christie Achenbach claims she complained about Nassar’s treatment to her track coach, and to her parents. They concluded she must have misinterpreted valid treatment, Achenbach said in a phone interview Thursday. Achenbach’s former coach sent her a Facebook message recently, she said, apologizing but stating she did not recall this conversation.
Over the years, Achenbach, now a 40-year-old dietitian in North Carolina, has periodically typed Nassar’s name into internet search engines, along with terms such as “accusations of harassment” to see if anything came up. Until late 2016, nothing did.
2000: Tiffany Thomas-Lopez, a Michigan State softball player, claims she complained about Nassar digitally penetrating her to two trainers, one of whom discouraged her from filing a formal report.
“I imagined hitting you if I ever got the chance to see you again,” Thomas-Lopez told Nassar in court last week.
In court filings, Michigan State’s attorney has said the trainers have denied these allegations and that the school can neither prove nor disprove Thomas-Lopez’s claims.
Sometime between 2000 and 2002: Michigan State volleyball player Jennifer Rood-Bedford said she made a vague complaint to a trainer about Nassar, and ultimately decided not to file an official complaint. Nassar’s unusual treatments were apparently well-known to her teammates, however, as Rood-Bedford said they jokingly referred to him as “the crotch doc.”
“I remember laying there wondering, ‘Is this okay? This doesn’t seem right,’” she said in court of her treatment by Nassar. “Everyone trusted him. I told myself I needed to trust him, too.”
Of the discussion with the trainer, Rood-Bedford said, “She treated the situation with both seriousness and sober-mindedness.” Rood-Bedford decided not to file a complaint, she said, a choice she has long regretted.
“I constantly ask myself, ‘Did I have the power to stop him?’” she said.
2004: Kyle Stephens, a 12-year-old family friend of Nassar, told her parents about abuse he had been subjecting her to since she was 6. Nassar denied the girl’s allegations, and Stephens’s parents believed him. Stephens’s father committed suicide in 2016, an act she believes was partly due to the realization she had been telling the truth.
“Parents need to learn the warning signs,” Stephens said in an interview outside the courtroom last week. “And they need to believe their kids.”
Stephens’s parents consulted a retired Michigan State professor and psychologist, Gary Stollak, about their daughter’s allegation before they decided to believe Nassar, Stephens has said. In a court hearing last year, Stollak testified he had a stroke in 2010, and doesn’t recall any of this.
The same year, 17-year-old Brianne Randall told her mother and police in Meridian Township, near Lansing, that Nassar sexually assaulted her.
“The police questioned you and you had the audacity to tell them I misunderstood the treatment because I was not comfortable with my body,” Randall said, addressing Nassar during her impact statement. That Meridian police missed an opportunity to stop Nassar has been reported publicly since September 2016, but Randall didn’t publicly identify herself until the sentencing hearing.
When she saw the first Star article about Nassar in September 2016, Randall said, she immediately called her mother and said, “He’s abused other people, I knew this was going to happen.”
Meridian Township paid for Randall’s flight from Seattle, where she now lives, to Michigan to confront Nassar. Frank Walsh, the township manager, said they have a news conference planned for next week to discuss the case.
2014: Recent Michigan State graduate Amanda Thomashow filed complaints with both university police and the school’s Title IX office after, she claimed, Nassar cupped her buttocks, massaged her breast and vaginal area during treatment, and was visibly aroused. Michigan State’s Title IX office concluded she had misinterpreted medical treatment. The police investigation did not result in a criminal charge.
After the Title IX investigation concluded, Nassar and his boss – William Strampel, then the dean of Michigan State’s college of osteopathic medicine – agreed to conditions to prevent another “misinterpretation.” Nassar was never to perform this type of treatment again without a chaperone in the room, and would modify it, he agreed, to minimize skin to skin contact.
After Nassar’s arrest, Michigan State police and the FBI jointly interviewed several of Nassar’s supervisors and colleagues. According to the police report, released late last year, Strampel conceded he never intended to ensure Nassar was following these conditions, because the Title IX inquiry cleared him and these were “common sense” measures.
Michigan State sports physician Douglas Dietzel told police that, in 2016, after Nassar was fired, Strampel told several doctors that “‘Larry didn’t follow the guidelines’ that were put in place after the 2014 investigation,” the report states.
Dietzel said when he heard that he thought, “How do we enforce those things when we didn’t even know about them?”
2015: In June, former Team USA gymnast Maggie Nichols contacted USA Gymnastics leadership about Nassar, who assaulted Nichols, she alleges, at the Karolyi Ranch. USA Gymnastics conducted its own investigation for five weeks, and decided to report Nassar to the Indianapolis office of the FBI in July. An agent told the organization’s CEO, Steve Penny, not to do anything that would interfere with the investigation, USA Gymnastics has said, which Penny interpreted as a directive not to inform anyone else. While USA Gymnastics quietly parted ways with Nassar, and informed the USOC of the allegations, no one contacted Michigan State.
2016: In April, Penny and then USA Gymnastics board chair Paul Parilla, concerned about an apparent lack of progress by the FBI investigation out of Indianapolis, met with an agent in the bureau’s Los Angeles office.
In July, Nichols received her first call from an FBI agent, based in Los Angeles. A spokeswoman for the FBI’s Indianapolis office deferred questions to the FBI’s national press office, which declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Los Angeles office confirmed that office opened an investigation in the spring of 2016.
“The L.A. investigation was opened when allegations came directly to the L.A. office,” spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said. “These other questions really need to be directed elsewhere.”
In August, Rachael Denhollander, a Louisville, Kentucky woman assaulted by Nassar in 2000 as a 15-year-old gymnast from Kalamazoo, Michigan, contacted the Indianapolis Star and filed a report with Michigan State police. Days before, Nassar treated Emma Ann Miller, now 15, who believes she is his last known victim.
In September, the Indianapolis Star published its first story on the allegations against Nassar, and Michigan State fired him. On Sept. 20, Michigan State police executed a search warrant at Nassar’s home, and discovered an external hard drive containing 37,000 images of child pornography in the trash can at the curb.
One enduring question to Manly, the victim’s attorney, is why no one from any of the FBI field offices investigating Nassar bothered to execute a search warrant earlier.
“The first thing you do in a child molestation investigation is you try to get access to his computers, because there’s usually child pornography there,” he said.
In December, Nassar was indicted on child pornography charges. Thomas-Lopez went public in a lawsuit with allegations her complaints were ignored in 2000. The Lansing State Journal reported that a university Title IX investigation of Nassar in 2014 cleared him.
2017: In February, Michigan State announced the hiring of attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, a former federal prosecutor, to conduct an internal review related to Nassar. Victims soon began calling for a public release of Fitzgerald’s report.
In March, Penny resigned from USA Gymnastics. The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on sex abuse in Olympic sports, called by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. USOC executive Rick Adams, under questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said someone at USA Gymnastics likely knew or should have known about Nassar’s abuse, given the number of accusers. In Michigan, Boyce publicly alleged she tried to complain about Nassar in 1997.
In May, the Senate Commerce Committee held its own hearing, called by Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., discussing sex abuse in Olympic sports.
In June, USA Gymnastics released a report by a former federal prosecutor that recommended policy improvements, but avoided addressing potential failures to stop Nassar earlier. Manly called the report “a public relations facade,” and began calling for independent investigations of USA Gymnastics and the USOC.
In July, Nassar pleaded guilty to federal child porn crimes.
In November, Nassar pleaded guilty to 10 sexual assault counts in two counties in Michigan.
In December, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette acceded to victim’s demands, and asked Michigan State to make its internal report public. The attorney Fitzgerald stated there was no report; he had been conducting fact-finding in preparation for defending the school in lawsuits, and found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Victims renewed calls for an independent investigation of Michigan State’s role in Nassar’s crimes. A federal judge sentenced Nassar to serve 60 years for his child porn crimes.
2018: On Jan. 16, Nassar’s sentencing hearing began. Last Friday, in the middle of the fourth day of victim’s statements, Michigan State’s board acquiesced to demands for an independent investigation, and asked the state attorney general’s office to conduct it.
On Wednesday, minutes after a judge sentenced Nassar to 40 to 175 years in prison, USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun announced plans for an independent investigation of USA Gymnastics and the USOC’s role in Nassar’s crimes. Hours later, Michigan State president Lou Anna Simon resigned.
Late Wednesday and Thursday, multiple members of Congress, for the first time, issued calls for independent investigations of Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, and the USOC.
Sen. Feinstein released statements that said a meeting she had with eight Nassar victims last February was “one of the most disturbing, emotional meetings I’ve held in 25 years in the Senate,” and she demanded an investigation of Michigan State.
Sen. Blumenthal tweeted that he, too, was calling for independent investigations of the USOC, USA Gymnastics and Michigan State.
“The women who bravely exposed Larry Nassar’s criminal conduct deserve nothing less,” he wrote.