Karoyli Ran­cha to be in­ves­ti­gated

Gov. Greg Ab­bott di­rects Rangers to look into claims that Larry Nas­sar abused some of his vic­tims there.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Chuck Lin­dell clin­dell@states­man.com

Amid al­le­ga­tions that ath­letes had been sex­u­ally abused for years at the Karolyi Ranch near Huntsville, Gov. Greg Ab­bott on Tues­day di­rected the Texas Rangers to in­ves­ti­gate ac­tiv­i­ties at the for­mer na­tional train­ing cen­ter for USA Gym­nas­tics.

Mul­ti­ple ath­letes, in­clud­ing Olympic gold medal­ist Si­mone Biles from the Hous­ton suburb of Spring, have said the train­ing fa­cil­ity was among the places where Larry Nas­sar, a for­mer sports doc­tor who treated the na­tion’s top women gym­nasts, sex­u­ally abused them un­der the guise of pro­vid­ing med­i­cal treat­ment.

One, 2010 U.S. na­tional cham­pion Mat­tie Lar­son, called the re­mote ranch — about 15 miles south­east of Huntsville in the Sam Hous­ton Na­tional For­est, a place with­out cell­phone ser­vice — “the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for abusers and mo­lesters to thrive.”

“There is an eerie feel­ing as soon as you step foot onto the Karolyi Ranch. It is com­pletely re­moved from all civ­i­liza­tion,” Lar­son said last week as she joined more than 150 ath­letes who con­fronted Nas­sar in a Michi­gan court­room be­fore he was sen­tenced last week to 40 to 175 years in prison after plead­ing guilty to seven counts of crim­i­nal sex­ual con­duct.

The Walker County sher­iff ’s of­fice is in­ves­ti­gat­ing the al­le­ga­tions of abuse at the now-closed ranch, the na­tion’s cen­ter for USA Gym­nas­tics train­ing since 2001 and a U.S. Olympics train­ing site since 2011.

In Tues­day’s letter to Steve McCraw, di­rec­tor of the Texas Depart­ment of Pub­lic Safety, Ab­bott said the Texas Rangers were well-sit­u­ated to help in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of crim­i­nal acts that had taken place “across mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions and states.”

“The pub­lic state­ments made by ath­letes who pre­vi­ously trained at the Karolyi Ranch are gut-wrench­ing,” Ab­bott wrote in the letter.

“Those ath­letes, as well as all Tex­ans, de­serve to know that no stone is left un­turned to en­sure that the al­le­ga­tions are thor­oughly vet­ted and the per­pe­tra­tors and en­ablers of any such mis­con­duct are brought to jus­tice. The peo­ple of Texas de­mand, and the vic­tims de­serve, noth­ing less,” he wrote.

In a state­ment re­leased Tues­day af­ter­noon, the DPS said the in­ves­ti­ga­tion will be­gin im­me­di­ately, adding that Rangers have con­tacted lo­cal and fed­eral agen­cies “to en­sure a com­plete and thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion into any po­ten­tial crim­i­nal con­duct.”

The Karolyi Ranch was owned by Bela Karolyi, a leg­endary gym­nas­tics coach, and his wife, Marta Karolyi, the co­or­di­na­tor of the U.S. women’s gym­nas­tics na­tional team who re­tired after win­ning the team gold medal in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

A mes­sage on the fa­cil­ity’s web­site an­nounced that train­ing pro­grams have ended “after nearly four decades of spir­it­ing young gym­nasts to­wards great­ness,” and the fa­cil­ity’s main phone num­ber has been dis­con­nected.

Biles, who won five medals in Rio, four of them gold, an­nounced Jan. 15 that she was among the ath­letes abused by Nas­sar at the Karolyi Ranch.

“It is im­pos­si­bly dif­fi­cult to re­live these ex­pe­ri­ences, and it breaks my heart even more to think that as I work to­wards my dream of com­pet­ing in Tokyo in 2020, I will have to con­tin­u­ally re­turn to the same train­ing fa­cil­ity where I was abused,” Biles wrote.

Three days later, USA Gym­nas­tics sev­ered ties with the ranch.

Lar­son ad­dressed Nas­sar in a Lansing, Mich., court­room on the sixth of seven days of vic­tim-im­pact state­ments, say­ing he took ad­van­tage of her fear of the coaches to strike up a false friend­ship, se­cure in the knowl­edge that she wouldn’t tell the camp’s adults about the abuse.

“I also didn’t tell my fel­low team­mates be­cause, the times he treated me at the ranch, be­sides when we were trav­el­ing and get treat­ments in his room, it hap­pened to be in the same room as all of them — a lounge where we would watch TV on a big couch and the treat­ment ta­bles were be­hind it,” Lar­son said in court. “I fig­ured if he was do­ing this in front of my friends, it can’t be that bad, right?”

Lar­son said she once pre­tended to slip on a wet floor, slam­ming her head into a tub, to fake an in­jury.

“I was will­ing to phys­i­cally hurt my­self to get out of the abuse I was experiencing at the ranch,” she said. “In the midst of all these adults who I was scared of, Larry, you were the only one I trusted. In the end, you turned out to be the scari­est mon­ster of all.”

DAVID J. PHILLIP / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

One ath­lete called the re­mote East Texas ranch “the per­fect en­vi­ron­ment for abusers and mo­lesters to thrive.”

DAVID J. PHILLIP / AP

A gym at the Karolyi Ranch is seen here in 2015. Texas Gov. Greg Ab­bott has or­dered a crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion into claims that Larry Nas­sar abused some of his vic­tims at the ranch that was the train­ing ground for U.S. women’s gym­nas­tics.

Bela Karolyi

Marta Karolyi

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