Nassar's closest victims: 'I was in denial'

Kim Kozlowski, and Sarah Rahal

Lansing — For a sixth day, convicted sexual abuser Larry Nassar heard Tuesday about the impact his crimes have had on victims, including poignant testimony from former gymnast Isabell Hutchins.

Hutchins, a Toledo resident and former gymnast at Twistars, brought with her a box of gifts that Nassar had mailed to her when she was 12 or 13 that included several mementos of the mascot Izzy, from the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Inside were socks, playing cards, Band-Aids and a holiday ornament with the mascot. There also was a card from Nassar, with a message that she read aloud.

“Dear Izzy! I am so proud of you having such an awesome season this year,” Hutchins read from the card. “Did you know that the 1996 Olympic mascot was Izzy? Well, enjoy! And of course, I had a pair of Izzy socks from the 2000 Aussie Olympics. Luv you girl! Larry.”

Hutchins, 19, threw the box away after her testimony.

Before testifying, she had told the judge and Nassar she hadn’t planned to speak but decided to make a statement for her younger, sister gymnasts and her future daughter, so that this never happens again to little girls.

“There have so many women who told their stories, what else could I say that hasn’t already said?” said Hutchins. “I didn’t think anyone would feel my story was an important ... I felt like I didn’t have a voice. These are all the insecurities that I face day to day because of the abuse in my past.

“But I learned that I am not another number. I am part of an army of survivors and there is strength in numbers. Everyone’s story is important and everyone’s story is different. And I do have a voice.”

Whitney Burns, a dancer who met Nassar when she was 15 at Okemos High School, detailed how she was once a big dreamer, then started to withdraw. Burns said she became angry and felt like an alien in her own body.

But Burns, 31, also let Nassar know she is prevailing.

“You not only sexually abused me but emotionally abused me for 15 years,” Burns said. “I have questioned myself and second-guessed myself ... Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know. The power Larry Nassar held was given to him. We are here to take it away.”

Burns told Nassar: “You stole my life, Larry Nassar, and I am now taking it back.”

She said she met Nassar when she was 15 to be treated for injuries she suffered in a car crash. She said her family took her to the doctor because of his reputation as a miracle worker.

At least 158 women are expected to make statements before Judge Rosemarie Aquilina of Ingham County Circuit Court sentences Nassar, the former Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics sports doctor, for seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct.

Brianne Randall, a victim who reported abuse in 2004 to the Meridian Township Police Department in Okemos and had a rape kit done, was flown by the department from Seattle to Lansing to give her statement.

"I didn’t want to leave my 7-week-old son; however, after hearing the words of my sister survivors, I knew I had to come support them," she said.

Addressing Nassar, she said: "The police questioned you and you had the audacity to tell them I misunderstood this treatment because I was uncomfortable with my body. I wasn’t afraid of you then and I’m sure as hell not afraid of you now."

Emily Meinke flew from Florida to give her statement with her sister. She said her father donated a physician table to Nassar's clinic.

"I thank God my father is no longer on this Earth to hear the statements made by these women, on that table, it would break his heart," she said. "I will never forget the smell of his lotion he brought in his training bag."

Many victims said they were in denial when they first heard the accusations against Nassar. Emily Morales, now 18, said to Nassar, "You weren't just a doctor, you were a trusted friend and that's why I was in such denial."

"He would get lubricant and spread it on my exposed butt ... spread it up and down my back and leg as the other gloveless hand penetrated me."

Morales demanded an apology from Nassar after she gave her testimony. She said she believed in forgiveness and he apologized to her. Nassar then teared up in the witness box.

Christina Barba said she met Nassar when she was 9 years old and had broken her toe at the gym. She eventually gave up gymnastics and became a physical therapist, working side-by-side with him in his clinic. She said she consistently defended Nassar until her own trauma started to emerge last week.

"I knew the real Larry ... As a gymnast, that back room at the gym was a safe haven. I thought of him as both a friend and mentor. He’d always squeeze you in if you needed him. It was almost too good to be true," she said. "I needed someone else to point out the abuse because I couldn’t believe it myself ... The problem was I trusted him blindly through a child's eyes."

Court will resume Wednesday at 9 a.m., when at least three final victims will speak, with Nassar's sentencing expected in the late afternoon.

Prosecutors are seeking a term of 40-125 years in prison. Nassar, 54, has already been sentenced to 60 years on federal child pornography charges.

Civil lawsuits continue to be filed by women and are now nearing 200 against Nassar, MSU and others, said Okemos-based attorneys Mick Grewal and David Mittleman. A status hearing is scheduled Wednesday in federal court in Grand Rapids.

The women’s testimonies come as a Detroit News investigation found that reports of sexual misconduct by Nassar reached at least 14 university representatives in the two decades before his arrest.

Among those notified was MSU President Lou Anna Simon, who was informed in 2014 that a Title IX complaint and a police report had been filed against an unnamed physician.


Victim to Nassar: Explain yourself

Despite growing calls for Simon’s resignation, the MSU Board of Trustees affirmed its support for her Friday, denying any “cover-up” of the Nassar scandal and asking state Attorney General Bill Schuette to investigate the school’s handling of sexual misconduct complaints against the former sports doctor.

On Saturday, one trustee, Mitch Lyons, changed his position and asked Simon to step down.

Amanda McGeachie, a 27-year-old Canadian, was a member of MSU's rowing team from 2008-2012. She was 17-21 years old when she was sexually assaulted by Nassar. A representative from the state Attorney General's office read a statement from her in which she said that two of her teammates had told two sports medicine physicians, yet nothing was done.​​

"After being a proud Spartan alum for the last six years, I can't imagine representing a school who won't take accountability ... for what happened to me, my teammates and many before us."

Nassar also treated gymnasts for USA Gymnastics, which on Monday suspended former U.S. women’s national team coach John Geddert, owner of the Twistars gymnastics club near Lansing.

Nassar, a disgraced former USA Gymnastics sports doctor, pleaded guilty last year to sexual abuse involving a girl under 13 and two teenagers at Twistars.

Geddert was the U.S. coach at the 2012 Olympics, where the team won its first title in women’s gymnastics since 1996. He was also the personal coach of 2011 national champion Jordyn Wieber, who last week was among the victims who confronted Nassar during his sentencing hearing along with fellow Olympian Aly Raisman.

Geddert’s suspension followed the resignation of the executive leaders on the board of the governing body for USA Gymnastics.

USA Gymnastics Board of Directors’ Chairman Paul Parilla, Vice Chairman Jay Binder and Treasurer Bitsy Kelley all tendered their resignations, effective Sunday, according to Kerry Perry, the organization’s president and CEO.