The Parents Who Were, Unwillingly And Unknowingly, Witnesses To Their Children's Many parents were in the room when Larry Nassar abused their daughters. They had no idea it was happening. That's because Larry didn't just manipulate his victims, he manipulated their parents, too.
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The Parents

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The Parents

The Parents

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LINDSEY SMITH, HOST:

Hey, there. This is Lindsey. You should know BELIEVED, this podcast - it's made possible by you. The ability for us to spend months and months talking to survivors and telling their stories, it's because of your generous donations. This is how public radio works. And it works because you, too, know that this kind of storytelling is more important than ever. Please take a minute to show your support right now. It's easy. Just go to donate.npr.org/believed. And thank you so much.

Before we get started, we want to give you a heads up. You should start with Episode 1. Things will make a lot more sense that way. Also, the series is about sexual assault. And there's some swearing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KATE WELLS, HOST:

There is one question we get asked the most about the Larry Nassar case, whether it's our boss, our families, or just people at parties being like, oh, what are you working on these days? People hear Larry Nassar, and it's like their voices get lower. They lean in, and they ask, but what about the parents? How could the parents of these girls have been in the room while Larry abused their child and not know it was happening?

TED: Good question. I can't answer. I don't know. I wish I would know why I didn't see any signs.

WELLS: This is Ted. We're just using his first name. He asked that we not use his daughter's name.

TED: Every day, day and night, I will ask - I will try to find the answer for the rest of my life. I don't think I ever will. I just can't imagine how - how we could not see anything after so many dozens and dozens of visits.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: In this episode, you're going to hear from parents like Ted because from the moment Rachael Denhollander spoke out publicly about her abuse, their lives changed, too. They have seen all the comments online - how the parents are to blame, how they must have been so obsessed with their kids' gymnastics careers that they just looked the other way. But trust me, however many questions you may have, these parents have infinitely more. I'm Kate Wells.

SMITH: And I'm Lindsey Smith. You're listening to BELIEVED.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: We're going to come back to Ted in a few minutes.

SMITH: But first, you should know, after Rachael's story comes out in September 2016, police start getting more complaints about Larry. Within two weeks, another 16 women and girls had come forward. By November, Larry was charged with sexually abusing a child under the age of 13. I want you to meet two of the young women who filed complaints with police that fall.

KAYLEE LORINCZ: I'm Kaylee Lorincz. I am going to be a sophomore at Adrian College, and I am a gymnastics coach as well.

JESSICA THOMASHOW: Hi, I'm Jessica Thomashow. I just graduated from Okemos High School. And I'm now going to Michigan.

SMITH: For girls like Jessica and Kaylee, there was life before they saw Rachael's article and after.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

K. LORINCZ: I remember it like it was yesterday.

J. THOMASHOW: I remember I was in the Meijer parking lot eating Burger King with my mom after, like, a piano lesson.

K. LORINCZ: It was a school night. So I was laying in my bed, scrolling through Twitter.

J. THOMASHOW: And then as soon as I read that article, this feeling hit me like - I was assaulted when I was a kid. And I'm right. Something did happen at that appointment

K. LORINCZ: And I couldn't even get through half of the report because I read enough to know that the same thing happened to me.

SMITH: Kaylee and Jessica recognized the so-called treatments Rachael described in the Indy Star article, including how Larry had penetrated her during treatment. And they read the comment in that article from Larry's lawyer denying Larry had ever penetrated patients. And they knew from firsthand experience that that was bullshit. So they talked to their moms.

SUZANNE THOMASHOW: I showed her the Indy Star article. She read it, and she goes, Mom, that's what he did to me. That was when we figured it out. That was when she figured out that she'd been assaulted.

WELLS: This is Suzanne Thomashow. She is the mother of Jessica Thomashow, one of the girls you met earlier. You actually met Suzanne and her other daughter, Amanda, in Episode 4. Suzanne Thomashow has three girls in all - Amanda, Katherine and Jessica.

S. THOMASHOW: I am very proud of them. Yeah.

WELLS: They affectionately call her Mama-show (ph), as in they get a text from her checking in on them, and they roll their eyes and go, oh, Mama-show. She talked to us at home this spring, with the family's two little dogs wandering around her feet, jumping up on her lap.

What is his name again?

S. THOMASHOW: That's Olive (ph).

WELLS: Hello, Olive.

SMITH: Olive and what's the other one?

S. THOMASHOW: Nellie (ph).

SMITH: Olive and Nellie. Suzanne's got pictures of her three girls all over the living room and the fridge in the kitchen. There's big portraits of Jessica in her gymnastics leotard. Suzanne's oldest daughter, Amanda, is the one Larry assaulted in 2014, the one who reported Larry to MSU. But MSU cleared him to go back to work.

Before any of that happened, Suzanne's youngest daughter, Jessica, had also seen Larry for treatments. But when Amanda tells her mom, Larry Nassar assaulted me, Suzanne doesn't even think to ask her daughter Jessica if Larry did anything to her.

S. THOMASHOW: When Amanda was assaulted, I thought it was a singular incident. I didn't have any idea that this was something going on for many, many, many years. And I had no idea that my other daughter had been assaulted by him. So...

SMITH: Another reason Suzanne didn't think to ask Jessica, sometimes she was in the room for Jessica's treatments. So when Jessica told her mom Larry abused her too, in 2016, Suzanne's mind starts racing back through Jessica's appointments. Larry had a routine. Have Jessica change into loose shorts, lay down on the exam table on her stomach. Larry would drape her with a towel.

S. THOMASHOW: I would be looking at that as, oh, he's - he's respecting her modesty by covering her. Of course she has the loose shorts, but his hands - I would never have thought that his hands would be under her shorts. As a mom, I don't see how somebody could - you know, how you could catch him.

SMITH: And remember; Suzanne's not just a mom. She's a doctor. And strictly as a doctor, Suzanne was curious.

S. THOMASHOW: Only because I was a physician, I was able to get up and say, you know, show me what you're doing. And then he carefully showed me where his hand was, which was nowhere near her vagina or labia or anywhere near her genitals. It was on her thigh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: Now, normally at least one of Larry's hands would be hidden from parents' view. To them, it always looked like Larry is doing a regular sports massage or adjustment. And the fact that he's working with the lower body isn't weird given the injuries he deals with. What parents could not see was the actual abuse, either because Larry's hands went under the towel, or because he would block their line of sight with his body.

SMITH: As she's thinking back on Jessica's appointments, Suzanne remembers this one time when she interrupts Larry. She remembers he seems pretty upset. He even walks out of the room for a few minutes.

S. THOMASHOW: And I remember, out of the corner of my eye, seeing what looked to be, potentially, an erection. And I just remember thinking, that's weird. That's really weird, poor guy - thinking, like, that would be very strange for a physician to get an erection in a patient's room while, you know, giving her an exam.

SMITH: Suzanne's reaction might sound familiar. Rachael Denhollander's mom saw the same thing - Larry with an erection in the treatment room. And just like Rachael's mom, Suzanne's not sure if she's actually seeing what she thinks she's seeing. She has no idea Larry is abusing her daughter. And Suzanne knows this guy from way back in med school.

WELLS: Maybe you still want to judge Suzanne. But ask yourself honestly if you would jump off your seat and shout, dear God, this man has an erection. Tell me you have never been in a situation where something felt weird and you felt confused, and you just let it go.

SMITH: In retrospect, Suzanne realizes this was a red flag.

S. THOMASHOW: But at the time, when you're in the room and he's doing this procedure, you just think he's being a good doctor and doing his best for your child. He was that slick. He was that smooth.

WELLS: Here's the other thing about parents being in the room. If you're the kid in this situation, the one who's having this so-called treatment happen to you, the fact that your parent is right there makes you think, well, this must be OK then.

K. LORINCZ: I think I was just laying there, like, trying to fight back tears because I was in so much pain. And I didn't know why he was doing this to me.

SMITH: This is Kaylee. She's the second girl you heard from earlier.

K. LORINCZ: I didn't want to look at my dad sitting in the room, like, that - I was just so uncomfortable. And he would talk to my dad, like, while he was doing this. So I was like, OK, maybe there's nothing wrong with this. Like, he's a doctor. It's fine.

SMITH: Kaylee is the one who saw Rachael's story while she was scrolling through Twitter late one night. And she immediately sends it to her mom, Lisa Lorincz.

LISA LORINCZ: It is the worst feeling I will ever experience as a parent. Because I knew, and I knew I knew then.

SMITH: That's the moment Lisa knew. She had missed it. She knew she missed it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: See, Kaylee tried to tell her mom, Lisa, about Larry five years ago, when she was just 13, right after her third appointment with Larry. Kaylee's dad always goes with her. Kaylee's mom and dad are divorced. You're not going to hear from Kaylee's dad. He didn't want to talk to us on the record.

Kaylee remembers, at this third appointment, Larry asks her to do something new. He wants her to change into a pair of loose, ugly orange shorts. He drapes a towel over her lower body. Larry steps in front of the table. He puts his body between the massage table Kaylee's laying on and the chair where her dad's sitting. Under the towel, Larry moves Kaylee's underwear to the side and thrusts his fingers inside her, while chatting away about weekend plans.

K. LORINCZ: It was like he was doing nothing wrong.

SMITH: Kaylee says her dad stays in the room for the full 40-minute appointment. Larry gives Kaylee some exercises to do at home. He tapes up her back.

K. LORINCZ: And that was it.

WELLS: A couple hours after the appointment, 13-year-old Kaylee is in the car with her mom.

L. LORINCZ: You know, I remember it like it was five seconds ago. I'm in the driver's seat. She's in the passenger's seat. And she said, Larry did something to me today that made me feel uncomfortable. And I said, well, what do you mean? Well, he, you know, touched me. And I said, well, touched you where? And she said, down there. The whole time you know what she's saying, but you're trying to rationalize that it can't be that.

SMITH: Lisa gets a sinking feeling in her gut, but she doesn't ask Kaylee a bunch of questions. Instead, she calls her ex-husband, privately, right away, to ask him about the appointment with Larry.

L. LORINCZ: And I called him, and I said, did you leave the room at any point in time? And he said no. And he's like, why? You're scaring me. And I said, well - I said, Kaylee told me that, you know, Larry touched her down there. He goes, Lisa, I was - I was in the room. And I'm - it's like that out-of-body experience, like - I'm fast-forwarding to what she told me, what he's telling me.

And I know what my gut's telling me, and then I'm going to - if it is what I know it is, who's going to believe me? What am I going to do? What am I going to - and you know, God, forgive me, I - I dropped it. I filed it back in the parenting filing cabinet until 2016. But her instincts were spot-on. She knew it wasn't right. She told a parent. She did what she should have done. And - you know?

SMITH: Right here, Lisa kind of throws up her hands.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: Lisa glances at her daughter, sitting right next to her on the bed. Tears well up in Lisa's eyes. We've talked to so many parents who feel this way - heartbroken, guilty, pissed off, absolutely helpless and betrayed. Even that doesn't cut it. Words just don't really cut it.

WELLS: They are now members of this terrible club - parents who were unwillingly and unknowingly witnesses to their children's abuse.

TED: But unless you were there, you can't understand how manipulative this person was.

WELLS: This is Ted again, the dad you heard at the beginning. After the break, we're going to hear Ted's story. It's the story of a dad who was in the room. And it shows you how Larry didn't just groom his victims. He groomed their families, too.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: Ted's daughter was a gymnast. And at her gym, they called Ted the music man, he says. At competitions, he was in charge of playing every single song for every single girl's routine. Some meets, there would be 800 to a thousand girls competing, so Ted would be in charge of queuing up as many as 1,000 songs.

TED: And I don't let anybody take my spot. I sit there, and I play the thousand songs.

WELLS: Ted remembers when he first saw Rachael's article accusing Larry Nassar of abuse. And right away Ted thought, no way; not Larry because Ted knew Larry. For years, he had been going with his daughter to her appointments, sitting in Larry's treatment room, talking with Larry about their kids.

TED: And it was almost like you're in awe. You're sitting there. And while he's treating her, you're looking at the walls, and you're seeing all the autographs, and to - signed by the Olympians. To Larry, you are the best. Thank you for everything you've done for us. And you're looking at all that, and you're saying, this guy is truly a saint. And everybody loves this guy. He - never met anybody like this in my life.

WELLS: To Ted, Larry seemed so capable, so skilled.

TED: He would take out the skeleton, and he would say, OK, see this bone here? And this is what's causing the pain. And we need to align that, so a lot of hands-on massaging, yeah? So I saw him massaging her and this and that, but I never saw him touch her in inappropriate places - never.

WELLS: But as more victims came forward and Larry was arrested, Ted thought, oh, my God, it must be true; Larry must have been abusing these girls. And then, thank God Larry didn't hurt our daughter.

TED: We believed that he did this to all those innocent girls. But we also believed that he didn't touch our daughter because we had such a great relationship. It was like a family. Like, he would never touch our daughter.

WELLS: And Ted's daughter confirms that. No, she told her parents, Larry never touched me like that. Ted believed her. After all, he had been right there in the room. But then Ted's daughter starts acting differently. For months, she's depressed, anxious. His hard-working, independent girl now seems to have trouble just taking care of herself. They chalk it up to the transition to college. She's a freshman. It's hard.

TED: But this one weekend, she got sick. She had a terrible earache. And, you know, she calls us from college. And we say, honey, OK, you need to go to the health center and have them check it out because your ear is important (laughter). You have to get it checked out. Probably you have an infection, and you need antibiotics. And she just started bawling. And that's where she first told my wife - she says, I can't go to doctors on my own; I don't trust them.

WELLS: That is when Ted's daughter finally admitted what even she hadn't wanted to believe, that Larry had abused her during those treatments.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: For Ted, the guilt was consuming.

TED: Why didn't you notice anything? And you took her to all these appointments. Why? Why? Why? So it's - I give credit to my wife. She never blamed me. But she feels the guilt also because, for example, we would ask our daughter, both my wife and I, honey, did he touch you? No. OK. It's not like we said, are you sure and look at her in the eye. And we felt like we didn't push enough because subconsciously, we didn't want to hear the truth, that yes.

WELLS: Ted spends a lot of time looking back, just like a lot of parents do, and seeing what now in hindsight look like red flags, like that time Ted was driving home with his daughter after an appointment.

TED: And she's sitting in the car, very quiet and depressed, and saying, Dad, he's not helping my back pain; let's not go anymore. But this is Larry. This is the gymnastics doctor. If he can't cure her, nobody will cure her. Only God has more skills than Larry. Be patient, honey. It's going to take time. Good things take time. That's what we always taught our kids. So I would say, OK, we're going to go again next week. We're going to go again the following week. And then you will start seeing the progress. She said, OK, Dad. You know, I trust your judgment. Well, now we know.

WELLS: To say parents like Ted blame themselves is an understatement, even though they know just how many hundreds of parents Larry manipulated, how parents who were doctors and law enforcement officers sat in those same treatment rooms, totally unaware. Ted and his wife, they know their daughter's worried about them, so they keep it together around her, keep the focus on her healing. But Ted admits he struggles. This past winter, he told his daughter's former coach he couldn't do the music for their gymnastics meets this year.

TED: I said, I can't do this. I can't see all those girls. I don't know which one of them was abused or not. I'm so sorry, coach. I can't do this. Give me the season off, and I'm hoping next year I'll have the strength to come back. The music man will come back.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: I think we as parents are morbidly fascinated and horrified by these parents' stories, like they're a particularly nasty car wreck on the highway. We want to assure ourselves it couldn't happen to us. We could not be those parents. But Ted knows better. He and the rest of these parents have had a crash course in how predators like Larry Nassar operate, how they don't just groom their victims. They gain the trust of the people around their victims, too.

By the way, Ted is in fact coming back to do the music for meets this year. His daughter is in college. She doesn't compete anymore. But Ted is going to play those 1,000 songs anyway. He owes it to the sport, Ted says. Gymnastics made his daughter so strong, so powerful that she can even get through something like this.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SMITH: Next time on BELIEVED, police raid Larry Nassar's house.

(SOUNDBITE OF KNOCKING)

SMITH: Detective Andrea Munford is out in Larry's front yard when another officer walks up and tells her...

ANDREA MUNFORD: Hey, I just noticed the trash hasn't been picked up.

SMITH: What police find in those trash cans changes how the rest of the world sees Larry, even the people who loved him the most. That's next time on BELIEVED.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

WELLS: You've been listening to BELIEVED. And this podcast - it's made possible by you. Michigan Radio, where we produce BELIEVED, and public radio stations across the country rely on your support to make this kind of journalism possible. Please make your gift now. Just go to donate.npr.org/believed to give. And thank you so much.

SMITH: This week's show was reported by me, Lindsey Smith, and Kate Wells, produced by Juliet Hinely with help from Paulette Parker, edited by Sarah Hulett with help from Alison MacAdam, engineered and mixed by Bob Skon. Jennifer Guerra is the show's executive producer. Zoe Clark is our program director. Our theme music is by Paul Brill, additional music by Ramtin Arablouei.

WELLS: Special thanks to Emma Winowiecki, Jodi Westrick, Rebecca Williams, Vince Duffy, Amy Tardif, Len Niehoff, Nisa Khan, Hannah Rubenstein and Lara Moehlman, and the folks at NPR - Mark Memmott, Ashley Messenger, Camille Smiley and N'Jeri Eaton.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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