MSU's Simon faces victims: Today is about your story

Sarah Rahal, and Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan State University President Lou Anna Simon appeared in court Wednesday afternoon to hear the second day of testimony from 21 more victims of Larry Nassar – the former MSU and USA Gymnastics doctor who’s awaiting sentencing for sexually abusing young women.

Simon entered the courtroom during a lunch break, took a seat in the back row, and listened to the victims’ stories for several hours.

Lou Anna Simon, MSU's president, arrives in court Wednesday to hear victims make impact statements over abuse by Dr. Larry Nassar.

During another break in the hearing in Ingham County Circuit Court, she told media who approached her in the back of the courtroom that Wednesday was about listening to the victims.

“It’s a challenge of trust. In the case of medical procedures, those are ones that if you’re president, there’s a lot of space between you and what happens in a clinic … so you trust and when that trust is broken, again today is about the victims, it’s not about us,” Simon said.

Larissa Boyce, thought to be the first gymnast to tell MSU about Nassar, asked if Simon would be in court Thursday when she would be testifying. Boyce said it would mean a lot to her. Simon replied that she would keep track of the case but has “been disruptive enough.”

Gina Nichols, mother of victim Maggie Nichols weeps in the gallery while victims speak to Larry Nassar in front of Judge Rosemarie Aquilina in district court on Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, in Lansing. She read a letter from her daughter in court, and said to Nassar: "You are not a real doctor. You are a serial child molester, a pedophile."

“There will be a time and place for us to talk (about the institution) but we don’t want another distraction,” said Simon. “(Nassar) is a monster who broke our trust ... You have to be horrified and extremely sorry that anyone’s lives have been affected profoundly.”

Lindsey Lemke, 22 from Holt, responded to Simon’s appearance, saying her presence meant absolutely nothing.

“I think she was just here because everyone was calling her out for not being here. If she really cared she should take the time to email each family,” said Lemke, an MSU gymnast from 2015-17.

Among the highlights of the day was the testimony of Amanda Thomashow, who filed a Title IX report with MSU in 2014 and had not revealed her identity until the hearing.

“At the end of a long, tiring appointment, that man sent a resident out of the room and stuck his hand up my shirt and down my pants, despite my protests and would not let me leave until I agreed to a follow-up assault,” said Thomashow. “I didn’t know who to tell or if anyone would believe me. Sometimes, I didn’t believe myself but I knew I had to report it.”

Thomashow said she told another doctor who worked with Nassar; that doctor told her he would be in touch soon. It wouldn’t be until weeks later that she received a call from Kristine Moore at MSU’s Office of Institutional Equity.

Larry Nassar listens to testimony.

“She wanted to hear the details of my complaint and when I started to talk about where he put his hands without someone else in the room, she wanted to meet with me immediately,” she said. “I relayed my story to her and a police officer. They seemed horrified … but the investigation by MSU was weak and sloppy and he was cleared to practice under new guidelines.”

Thomashow addressed Nassar in court, telling him he helped build an army of survivors who would expose him.

“You might have broken us, but from the rubble we will rise as a family of empowered female warriors who will never let you or any man drunk off power get away with such evil again,” Thomashow said.

The first speaker Wednesday was Gina Nichols, who read a letter written by her daughter, Maggie Nichols. She said she reported Nassar’s abuse to USA Gymnastics leadership in 2015.

“They did not take my daughter seriously, they were supposed to be protecting her. Once a month, I sent my daughter (to Texas) to go train for our country. We aren’t allowed to go and this is what I got,” Gina Nichols, who lives in Minnesota, told The News.

“Not only was he not a real doctor because he didn’t have gloves on, he didn’t get consent, he didn’t call us … he didn’t have a license to practice medicine in the state of Texas. Why USAG was that negligent that they wouldn’t check his credentials ... it’s inexcusable.”

Jeanette Antolin, a former U.S. national gymnastics team member from 1995 to 2000, trained at the Karolyi Ranch in Texas and said Nassar was the team doctor, regarded as the best.

“Becoming a mother has made me realize that I would do anything to protect my child. We have profound responsibilities to keep children safe. My mother wishes she could have protected me from this monster,” Antolin said. “Only a monster would harm children in the way Larry did.”

When court adjourned, 50 victims had testified during the first two days. Statements from 51 more victims are expected through Friday.