Gymnasts who say they were molested by former USA Gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar at the famous Karolyi Ranch want Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to investigate whether ranch operators Bela and Martha Karolyi knew of abuse and did not report it.
Attorneys for more than a dozen women who said Nassar abused them held a news conference Thursday outside the attorney general’s office in Austin to call on Paxton to look into the claims that Karolyi was aware of unlawful behavior and kept quiet. They said authorities in the Lone Star State have kept their attention on Nassar and not whether Bela and Martha Karolyi could have done more to prevent abuse.
“I can’t understand why this is not taken seriously in Texas,” said Olympic bronze medalist Jamie Dantzscher, who claimed Nassar molested her at the ranch. Nassar will essentially spend life behind bars after convictions for criminal sexual conduct and child pornography.
Five former gymnasts stood side by side on Thursday, to ask Paxton to look deeper into the Karolyi’s behavior.
“It hurts me to know that we were let down by not one, not two, but multiple adults,” former gymnast Kayla Spicher, now a current gymnastics coach, said.
Gymnast Lindsey Lemke, who attends Michigan State University, said Nassar began abusing her when she was nine years old. She said the Karolyi’s behavior is part of a larger culture that has been “thriving for many, many years.”
“If you truly honestly are innocent, and you did not know, why are you not supporting us?” Lemke asked. “Why wouldn’t you be like: ‘I can’t believe he did that to you, let’s make this right?'”
Authorities in Walker County confirmed an active investigation being led by the Walker County Sheriff’s Office, the Texas Rangers and the Walker County Criminal District Attorney’s Office into the Karolyi Ranch, which is located in Huntsville, Texas. Few details have been released.
Paxton’s director of communications, Marc Rylander, issued a statement in response to the group’s call for the state to get involved. Rylander said the AG’s office had not received a formal appointment of request to join the investigation, which he said was outside his office’s jurisdiction.
“We are confident that the Texas Rangers, in coordination with the Walker County District Attorney and Walker County Sheriff’s Office, will complete a thorough investigation that will achieve justice for the victims of these alleged crimes,” Rylander’s statement read, in part.
“If requested by the local DA or law enforcement officers currently working this investigation, our office will gladly and immediately assist with this investigation and prosecution,” Rylander continued.
Thursday was the first time Autumn Blaney, 16, had spoken publicly about the abuse she said she sustained from Nassar over a four year period.
“Larry abused me when I was 10 all the way until I was 14, so the fact that adults knew about it could have saved me a year from abuse,” Blaney said Thursday as her mother looked on. She said hearing the other girls tell their stories of abuse gave her the strength to eventually speak up.
“There’s no step by step guide to this abuse so just trust your gut and if you feel comfortable then I think it might be a good experience for healing,” she added, offering advice for girls who felt victimized by Nassar and others.
John Cossum, an attorney representing the Karolyis, released a statement Thursday evening, responding to the allegations, and saying the pair has “fully cooperated” with authorities:
“In November, 2016, the Texas Rangers and the Walker County Sheriff’s Department were granted voluntary access to the Karolyi Ranch, in particular that part of the ranch leased by USAG, during the early phases of the Larry Nassar investigation.
In February, 2018, the Karolyi’s personally and voluntarily met with representatives of the Texas Rangers and the Walker County Sheriff’s Department for several hours and once again provided unfettered access to all areas of the Karolyi Ranch. Additionally, the Karolyi’s have voluntarily provided any and all documents requested from them.
Out of respect for law enforcement and those conducting the investigation, there will be no further comment about the information provided or requested, but suffice it to say the Karolyi’s have fully cooperated whenever asked and look forward to a speedy resolution of the investigation on behalf of all those involved.”