Abbott directs Rangers to investigate abuse claims at Karolyi Ranch


Highlights

Citing ‘gut-wrenching’ testimony, Abbott asks Texas Rangers to investigate abuse claims at Karolyi Ranch.

One gymnast said the remote facility near Huntsville provided “the perfect environment for abusers.”

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.

LIKE US ON FACEBOOK: Our Lone Star Politics page brings Capitol news to your Facebook feed

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.”



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Local

Summer heat means preparing for disease-carrying mosquitoes, ticks
Summer heat means preparing for disease-carrying mosquitoes, ticks

Mosquitoes and ticks are moving in for the summer as temperatures heat up, but Central Texas residents can take precautions. Why are they here? Mosquitoes and ticks like warm weather. Chris Van Deusen, spokesman for the Texas Department of State Health Services, said mosquitoes are more likely to breed now that temperatures are at least 90 degrees...
Long-awaited ACC campus about to open in Leander
Long-awaited ACC campus about to open in Leander

Leander has been waiting a long time for this. Thirty-three years after property owners in the Leander school district began paying taxes to Austin Community College, ACC is about to open a campus here. Dubbed San Gabriel, for the river fed by a nearby tributary, the campus will host a grand opening celebration Wednesday, with classes starting Aug...
Police: Officers who pointed guns at boys acted appropriately
Police: Officers who pointed guns at boys acted appropriately

Austin police officials say officers acted appropriately when they pointed their guns at two boys after receiving a report that one of them was pointing a weapon — which turned out to be a toy — at cars driving by their front yard. The officers’ response was troubling to one neighbor who shared video of the encounter with the American-Statesman...
At UT, Linda Chanow makes a place for women in law
At UT, Linda Chanow makes a place for women in law

When Linda Bray Chanow arrived at the University of Texas Law School eight years ago to lead UT’s Center for Women in Law, only one alumna was pictured on the stately walls of the school’s first floor, which serves as a sort of UT legal hall of fame. “Alice Sheffield was in a place where many students didn’t see her,”...
Mexican voters in Texas weigh who will be future president of Mexico
Mexican voters in Texas weigh who will be future president of Mexico

Rossy Lima de Padilla, 31, has no plans of ever returning to live in Mexico. In fact the thought of living in Mexico after being in Texas for the last 18 years gives her mini panic attacks. But Lima de Padilla, a recipient of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status, is sure of one thing: She will vote for the first time in the upcoming...
More Stories