U.S. Figure Skater John Coughlin's Family Is 'Devastated' After His Apparent Suicide at 33
John Coughlin died of an apparent suicide in Kansas City on Friday at the age of 33
Former U.S. figure skater John Coughlin’s loved ones are “overwhelmed by the outpouring of warm thoughts and prayers” in the wake of his apparent suicide, his family says in a statement provided to PEOPLE.
Coughlin died at age 33 in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, according to his sister Angela Laune. His death came one day after he was suspended from the sport.
“We are devastated by the untimely passing of our beloved son and brother, John Coughlin,” his family says in a statement sent by Fireworks Sports Marketing. “John was a true champion on and off the ice, devoted to his family and passionate about his life in skating.”
“We are overwhelmed by the outpouring of warm thoughts and prayers from the international athletic community and deeply touched by the love that John would have been so proud to have felt,” the statement continues. “John was the definition of compassionate friend, competitive athlete, and enthusiastic performer.”
“We have only the fondest of memories of a life well lived and send him our love and prayers, finding some solace in the knowledge that he is now reunited with his loving mother,” Coughlin’s family adds. “We will announce details about service arrangements in the near future.”
A GoFundMe for funeral expenses has been set up by Coughlin’s former coach Dalilah Sappenfield. As of Sunday morning, the campaign had already exceeded its goal of $25,000.
“On January 18, 2019 our beloved friend, mentor, student, and role model was taken from us way too soon,” the GoFundMe page reads. “John Coughlin was an ambassador to figure skating and was loved by so many around the world. John lost everything….his name, reputation, his ability to earn a living and what he loved most, skating.”
“Words on social media can be just as powerful as a bullet. Unfortunately, the accusations that were made public before no distinguishing factors about what’s actually being investigated led to so much misinformation being spread around,” the statement continued. “For John this was too much. He wanted to be heard but couldn’t be and wasn’t allowed to be. It’s with such heavy heart that we will be saying goodbye to this amazingly kind soul.”
The Kansas City Police Department has not yet issued a police report on Coughlin’s death, but Sergeant Jake Becchina confirmed to PEOPLE that officers were dispatched to the 10900 block of Washington Street on Friday at approximately 4:54 p.m. in response to an apparent death by suicide. Becchina confirmed that the deceased was identified as John Coughlin of Kansas City.
Coughlin was a two-time U.S. Pairs Champion and worked as a coach, TV commentator and skater with U.S. Figure Skating and the International Skating Union. He participated in two world championships, placing sixth in 2011 and eighth in 2012.
According to USA Today, on Dec. 17, SafeSport — an organization that has “exclusive jurisdiction over sexual misconduct” in the Olympic loop and investigates other abuse allegations across multiple sports — restricted Coughlin’s eligibility to participate in figure skating pending final resolution of a matter presented to them.
On Thursday, SafeSport called for a “temporary suspension” of Coughlin, according to a release from the Professional Skating Association that was sent to members and obtained by PEOPLE.
The statement noted that Coughlin was “prohibited from participating, in any capacity, in any activity or competition authorized by, organized by, or under the auspices of the United States Olympic Committee, the national governing bodies recognized by the United States Olympic Committee, including U.S. Figure Skating, and/or a Local Affiliated Organization of a national governing body recognized by the United States Olympic Committee.”
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The details of the investigation or why he was suspended were not provided, as it is against SafeSport’s policy to comment on ongoing investigations.
“A suspension means there have been enough allegations or concern about safety to where we say, ‘This person just cannot participate at all,’” a source familiar with SafeSport’s process tells PEOPLE, explaining the difference between restricted status and interim suspension.
While some people have been calling for SafeSport to continue their investigation into Coughlin, the source says the center only operates on concerns of safety, rather than punishment, and they likely would not continue investigations after someone has died.
“We don’t suspend people as punishment,” the source says. “We suspend people when there’s a concern of imminent harm.”
On Jan. 7, Coughlin told USA Today the allegations against him were “unfounded.”“While I wish I could speak freely about the unfounded allegations levied against me, the SafeSport rules prevent me from doing so since the case remains pending,” he wrote in an email to the outlet. “I note only that the SafeSport notice of allegation itself stated that an allegation in no way constitutes a finding by SafeSport or that there is any merit to the allegation.”
Coughlin’s death coincides with the beginning of the National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit, where he was supposed to work as a commentator but could not under the rules of his suspension, according to USA Today.
Many people in the skating world have been mourning the loss of his passing, including his former coach Sappenfield.
“Yesterday I received the most numbing, devastating, and heartbreaking call!… My heart aches incredibly to know John took his life yesterday,” she wrote as part of a long note on Facebook. “His family, the skating community, and I lost a very special man who lived his life with integrity and kindness.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.