U.S. Figure Skater John Coughlin Dies of Apparent Suicide at 33 After Being Suspended from Sport
Former U.S. figure skater John Coughlin died in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, according to his sister Angela Laune. He was 33.
“My wonderful, strong, amazingly compassionate brother John Coughlin took his own life earlier today,” Laune wrote on Facebook. “I have no words.”
The Kansas City Police Department has not yet issued a police report, 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 Jan. 8, Coughlin resigned from his post as U.S. brand manager for John Wilson Blades, a skating blade retail company, USA Today reported.
On Thursday, SafeSport called for an “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.”
U.S. Figure Skating then followed up with their own suspension, according to the statement, noting he was suspended “pending final resolution of the matter by the U.S. Center for Safesport.”
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.”
However, the source says some allegations might be reported to law enforcement, which may continue to investigate.
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.”
After learning of Coughlin’s passing just one day after the statement was issued, the Professional Skater’s Association addressed his “heartbreaking” death.
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“It is with the greatest of sadness that PSA shares with you the heartbreaking news of the death of our colleague, John Coughlin,” the association told its members in a statement, which was obtained by PEOPLE. “The PSA wishes to extend our deepest sympathies to his family, father Mike, sister Angela, and friends.”
A rep at the Professional Skater’s Association did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
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 Dalilah 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.”
Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir offered his condolences on Twitter, writing, “John Coughlin was a person who made things fun. He was a person who was talented, had an incredible laugh & would go out of his way to cheer someone up. His kindness is something I’ll never forget and his light will be missed. My prayers are with his family & friends.”
Chris Knierim, a member of a pairs Olympic Figure Skating team, tweeted that he had “no words” and was “so sad,” before coming to Coughlin’s defense in response to tweets from people who he thinks prematurely drew conclusions about the allegations in the absence of an official outcome.
“I’m behaving as if there is no conviction,” he wrote. “I’m not heavy on one side or the other. When the final verdict comes out after the investigation is over I will not fight it. True or false it’s all a terrible situation for everyone involved.”
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.