After Nassar: A community responds to a local face shrouded in national scandal

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Journalism at Michigan State University

Ex-Michigan State University doctor and former Holt resident Larry Nassar is facing over 80 sexual abuse allegations, and that number seems to grow every week.

Holt, a small and tight-knit community of just under 24,000 people watched as the headlines of court cases and accusations piled up. Nassar was a long-time resident and, at one point, an active member of the community.

The reports began last summer, when allegations began to surface through the news media. One victim, Rachael Denhollander, alleged that Nassar — ungloved and without proper explanation — digitally penetrated her vagina during what was then explained to her as a “medical treatment.”

Denhollander learned later, as many of Nassar’s other patients, this was not a legitimate medical procedure—at the very least, not a commonly used and unexplained one.

nassar infographic

In November, Nassar first received three charges of first-degree criminal sexual misconduct with a person under 13 from the Michigan Attorney General, Bill Schuette. Each of those charges carries the possibility of life in prison. Schuette said the charges were “only the tip of the iceberg.

In February, Nassar received 22 more charges from Schuette.

The Nassar case has unfolded titanically: federal investigators say they found 37,000 images of child pornography on Nassar’s personal computer, a case for which he will face trial in August.

Other patients of Nassar—like previous MSU softball player Tiffany Lopez, previous MSU Youth Gymnastics program participant Larissa Boyce, current MSU gymnast Lindsey Lemke—have come forward with their stories of medical betrayal and shame and, in some instances, alleged systematic failure from officials who were told about concerns over Nassar and could’ve investigated further.

Nassar’s medical license has been revoked. MSU gymnastic coach of 27 years, Kathie Klages, retired in February after being complicated in lawsuits related to Nassar.

A Local Face

Rachel Langone, a lifetime resident of Lansing but frequent visitor to Holt, said she hadn’t even realized how close to home the Nassar story was.

“I really had no idea,” Langone said. “Personally, I know that I’d be fighting for my daughter like crazy had she been affected by this. I’d be making everybody know what happened to her. But unfortunately, sometimes all the bad news of the world just blends in with the rest of the bad news of the world.”

Langone did not know that Nassar served as a team physician for Holt High School for 17 years, or that he once penned an op-ed for MLive dedicated to the Holt School District in 2014.

“You hear a lot of stories these days about people in power with a lot of money doing awful things,” Langone said. “I thought this was the same. I didn’t know he was so local. I wish I would’ve known.”

Nassar’s MLive piece addresses the controversial 2014 “Reinventing Holt Schools” plan, otherwise known as “the switch,” which moved senior high school students across the street to another building in 2015. In it, Nassar mentions protesting at school board meetings and his three children, all of whom attended Holt schools at the time.

In 2016, Nassar announced a run for school board. Once the scandal picked up, he suspended his campaign. He still won 20 percent of the final vote, as his name was never removed from the official ballot.

Nassar was also a prominent member of a community Facebook group named Holt Community Matters, lifetime Holt resident Jennifer Middlin said.

But when the news about Nassar broke she said she knew there would not be space for dialogue about his actions and their implications on the existing community page—the page administrators were his friends, and they deleted posts and blocked users they deemed as “slanderous” against him.

So she started another community page: My Holt Community.

“My goal from the beginning was to just have a space for people to talk about (Nassar),” Middlin said. “I’m not going to block anyone from this page. I want there to be a space for survivors of sexual trauma to feel safe talking about it. This is our community.”

Middlin said she didn’t create the new Facebook page to cause division, but to highlight the issue at hand. She wanted to see the community come together around potential victims, not divide.

In recent months, the Holt Community Matters page has become completely private to outside members. However My Holt Community grows larger as time goes on, and continues to be open to the public. The discussion of Nassar continues as the story develops.

“I know from talking to people who have survived sexual assault that one of the most helpful things you can do it to have an open conversation about it,” Middlin said.

Moving Forward

On March 23, a post was made into the My Holt Community page about the planning of a panel for “parents, guardians, and those responsible for the welfare of children” to come together and talk about prevention training for happenings similar to the Nassar scandal.

The panel will be held by the Firecracker Foundation, a Lansing-based nonprofit that advocates services to child survivors of sexual trauma.

“The one thing we will always stand by and consistently support is believing children when they say they have experienced sexual trauma,” Founder and Executive Director of the Firecraker Foundation Tashmica Torok said. “It’s really important for us, as adults, to believe them and provide them with everything they need to heal.”

Torok said that this is evident in the Nassar cases because many of his alleged victims were children or teenagers when they were abused. She said if children are not believed by close authorities right away, the consequences can be dire for that child’s mental health.

“When children are not believed, they are much more likely to experience depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other devastating life-long impacts,” Torok said. “Children do not lie about these things, which is why we need to believe them right away.”

To the community of Holt, it’s one step toward the process of healing.

  • Jenny Vance

    Good piece on the Nassar issue! One big correction, though, Rachael Denhollander is not the Olympian that came forward, but she is the first to have come forward. The Olympian is Jamie Dantzscher. For accuracy and correct information, that should be edited!

  • Thanks for pointing that out, Ms. Vance. We have changed the story to make that correction. We are sorry for making that error and appreciate your help in setting things straight.