Relatives of John Coughlin speak out against allegations they say drove him to suicide
John Coughlin’s former skating partner, Bridget Namiotka, says he did indeed sexually abuse her when she was a teen, during the years the two competed together.
“John hurt a lot of people, including me,” Namiotka wrote to The Star via a private Facebook message. “My hope is my story will change and impact the skating world in a positive way. He did sexual abuse me for two years. He was four years older than me.”
Coughlin, 33, hanged himself in his father’s Kansas City home Jan. 18 in the midst of an investigation of allegations that he sexually abused minors.
Namiotka said she would have gone public earlier but said, “I have been in trauma therapy and have not had access to the internet.”
On Sunday, Namiotka claimed in multiple public Facebook posts that she was hurt by Coughlin.
“I’m sorry but john hurt at least 10 people including me,” she wrote. “He sexually abused me for 2 years. Nobody innocent hangs themself (sic).”
In reaction, she later reiterated, “Someone that’s innocent doesn’t hang himself. Think about the victims when you’re speaking up for what he did to at least 10 girls.”
Namiotka, now 29, was 14 when she teamed up with Coughlin, who would have been 18 or 19 at the time of the alleged sexual abuse. Sex relations between a minor and an adult are generally deemed to constitute statutory rape. Minors are presumed not to be able to give consent.
Coughlin had been living with Namiotka and her family at their Pennsylvania home during at least part of the time they trained and competed together, his family told The Star earlier this year.
The pair won a number of medals together, including placing fourth in 2006 and 2007 at the World Junior Championships.
In December, Coughlin suddenly found himself in an unfriendly spotlight when the U.S. Center for SafeSport — a group mandated by Congress to protect athletes from sexual misconduct and other abuse — first restricted and later suspended Coughlin from his sport pending an investigation into allegations involving three people, two of them minors.
After Coughlin’s death, SafeSport dropped the investigation, to the consternation of his supporters, who thought that if the organization completed its work, the truth would come out and the skater would ultimately be vindicated. SafeSport officials noted that their mandate is to protect athletes from emotional, physical and sexual abuse or even bullying. Couglin’s tragic death, they noted, rendered any further investigation purposeless.
Namiotka coming forward does not change that.
“I mean, no,” said SafeSport spokesman Daniel Hill, when asked whether the organization would perhaps reopen its investigation. “It’s a terrible situation. It’s just heartbreaking. The mandate and mission and legislation for the center make it pretty clear what their role is in these matters.”
Reached on Tuesday, Coughlin’s sister, Angela Laune of Kansas City, said she did not want to comment and give credence to Namiotka’s posts.
“We’ve said everything we’ve needed to say,” she said. “I’m still mourning John. It’s an overwhelming sadness.”
In a February story in The Star, Laune and her father, Mike Coughlin, maintained that any accusations of sexual impropriety were false and that his reputation should not be ruined by accusations alone.
“John was innocent. John was innocent in all of this,” Laune said at the time.
Amy Fankhauser, the director of skating at Line Creek Ice Arena in Kansas City who’d known Coughlin for years, stood by her late friend on Tuesday.
“Of course, I have empathy and concern for someone who feels like they were abused by anyone at anytime,” she wrote to The Star. “I can only speak to the person that I knew John to be. I worked closely with John on a regular basis. … My skaters loved and looked up to him as a role model and friend. … Never, ever was there a time that the skaters, their parents or I felt uncomfortable with him or doubted that he wanted anything but the best for them.”
Kansas City skating coach Kelsey Parker, who shared ice with Coughlin for a decade and skated with him as pairs partners for two seasons, also came to his defense, emailing a statement.
“I grew up skating and training with John,” Parker wrote to The Star. “He was a true friend, genuine, empathetic and always put others before himself. I never witnessed or experienced any poor conduct ever. We maintained our close friendship to the end of his life.”
Namiotka’s posts have generated fierce reactions both defending her and questioning her motives.
“I‘m sorry you went through that my friend. I’m proud of you for telling the world the truth,” said one.
“Why come out now?” said another. “He’s dead. What do you expect to prove?”