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Former Grand Rapids gymnastics coach appears in court over sexual assault charges


Former Grand Rapids gymnastics coach appears in court over sexual assault charges

Jun 07, 2023 | 4:05 pm ET
By Anna Liz Nichols
Former Grand Rapids gymnastics coach appears in court over sexual assault charges
Shannon Guay, 49, enters a court room in the 63rd District Court in Kent County Michigan on June 7, 2023 for a hearing in his criminal sexual conduct case. | Photo by Anna Liz Nichols

People from counties all over Michigan and out of state have contacted authorities with reports of sexual assault by former Kent County gymnastics coach Shannon Guay, the prosecution in his criminal case said Wednesday.

Guay, 49, formerly a coach at the now-closed Aerials & Baranis Gymnastics Center in Grand Rapids, appeared in court Wednesday, facing a total of 14 charges of criminal sexual conduct in four cases from victims between the ages of four and 14 at the time of the reported incidents.

Incident dates associated with the charges in the 63rd District Court range between 2003 and 2010.

An investigation in Kent County is underway, but so far the Kent County Prosecutor’s Office is looking at a total of 14 victims in the county, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Elizabeth Bartlett told the Michigan Advance Wednesday.

Calls to give reports of criminal behavior by Guay have come from counties all over Michigan, as well as Texas, Florida and California, Bartlett said. 

Mark Hunting, an attorney representing Guay, did not return a request for comment.

Kent County Sheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young and Kent County Prosecutor Christopher Becker told reporters at a news conference on May 11 that Guay, known by young gymnasts as “Coach Jake,” had been arrested in Florida where he resides. The two officials said some of the complainants had contact with Guay through gymnastics, but not all.

Guay worked in West Michigan from the 1990s to 2010 in gymnastics, dance studios and martial arts, according to the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.

LaJoye-Young said law enforcement has learned individuals who abuse their power, like former Olympic doctor Larry Nassar did to patients for decades, can accumulate a large number of victims until stopped. 

“Larry Nassar, there’s a number of other cases in the country that point to pattern crimes of this type and the fact that there’s generally not one or just a handful of victims, they’ll continue until they’re stopped,” LaJoye-Young said.

Anyone wishing to report inappropriate contact by Guay can call the Kent County Sheriff’s Office detectives at (616) 632-6125.

The current charges stem from reported incidents from up to two decades ago, and LaJoye-Young said there can be any number of factors that keep individuals from coming forward.

“Especially when it’s a minor involved. It takes quite a bit of guts to come forward and say, ‘This has happened to me’ and maybe be exposed to some scrutiny and certainly reliving some occurrences,” LaJoye-Young said. “I admire the courage of these young women to step forward and say this happened to me, and I need to do something about it. So we appreciate them being willing to step forward.”

Reports of sexual assault came to light in March of this year when the gymnastics business that opened in the location of Aerials & Baranis started getting voicemails from an individual with reports of past assaults.

LaJoye-Young said there are no concerns of misconduct at the new business that took over Aerials and Baranis’ space and Becker said credit is due to the business for doing the right thing in passing along concerns to the county.

Victims testifying in the case will remain anonymous by an order from the judge, and the first victim is scheduled to testify next Wednesday in a preliminary exam.