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.”