Not speaking up leads to tragedy in Nassar case

The news video Friday of a distraught father lunging toward former sports doctor Larry Nassar in a Michigan courtroom was both heartbreaking and disturbing.

Only a parent could understand the emotions that must have been building inside Randall Margraves as he made an unsuccessful request to the judge for just a few moments to confront the “demon” in a locked room.

The incident occurred during the third and final sentencing hearing for Nassar, who has admitted to sexually assaulting girls under the guise of medical treatment. This particular case focuses on his work at Twistars, an elite gymnastics club southwest of Lansing. However, other victims were involved in USA Gymnastics and Michigan State. More than 200 accusers so far have spoken or submitted statements in the two countries.

As it turns out, Margraves was facing the reality that Nassar molested his three daughters. So he rushed toward Nassar inside the courtroom and was quickly tackled by security.

Eaton County Judge Janice Cunningham later admonished Margraves. “I cannot tolerate or condone vigilantism or any other type of action that basically comes down to an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” the judge said.

The Nassar case is really hard to fathom. How did he get away with preying on so many victims for so long. Any logical explanation might have been found hundreds of miles away from that courtroom and inside the Marshall Middle School auditorium.

While Marshall Public Safety Director Rob Yant looked on, officials from the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC) held a public meeting to inform residents of a Level 3 registered offender moving into Marshall. Like it or not, James Dahlager was in Marshall and would be living in a residence in the 600 block of West Main Street.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the auditorium before the meeting started. My two children are grown up, but I have three grandchildren. What can I do to protect my loved ones from predators?

Dahlager was very thorough with his presentation. He explained the different levels of sex offenders in Minnesota and how they are monitored. He gave details on Dahlager’s sex crimes:

• As a 13-year-old, he was involved in “sexual offending” of 3 year old.

• As an adult he had sexual contact with a 12-year-old female.

Mark Bliven, director or risk assessment and community notification with DOC, said Dahlager gained access to the victims because he was known to the family.

“He took advantage of that and sexually offended,” he told the audience.

After his presentation, I asked Bliven “how do these guys get away with it?”

He quickly brought up the Dr. Nasser case.

“How did he get away with that for years and years? Because people weren’t listening. They weren’t paying attention. They didn’t take it seriously and he got away with it. So he kept doing it for years and years and years,” Bliven said.

Then he said something interesting about small towns.

“What I find in most areas, rural areas, people know everybody and everybody knows a sex offender,” Bliven said. “In a small town, where people lived there for generations, they all know. ‘Yep, there was the guy who was a sex offender’ — either he got caught or he got away with it for a long time.”

He urges people to be familiar with their surroundings and speak up.

“A community that doesn’t talk, if people don’t know their neighbor, they don’t know the other people in town — they are the ones who sort of overreact and don’t know what’s going on.”

Thursday’s meeting was not held to allow residents to tell officials to keep Mr. Dahlager out of Marshall.

“Again, two things, if you are not going to lock them up forever, what do you do?” Yant asked

“You want people with information, not just fears,” he said. A lot of fears developed from the Nassar case. Despite probable suspicion, nobody talked. Nobody stepped forward.

I also stopped a woman who attended the meeting. I asked her about her concerns.

“It’s always good to know,” she said. “Everybody deserves a second chance. Maybe they learned. You never know.”

Maybe Mr. Dahlager did learn his lesson. Meanwhile, Bliven gave out some pretty good advice to follow.