National youth hockey officials are looking into allegations of sexual misconduct and the sudden suicide of a popular Gwinnett County coach.
Parents of at least two players on the Atlanta Phoenix, a Duluth-based 16-and-under travel hockey team, reported to Gwinnett police Aug. 23 that their children had been sexually victimized by head coach Jason Greeson. Within hours, Greeson, 40, shot himself to death in a Hall County church parking lot near Lake Lanier.
Now parents involved in Atlanta’s close-knit youth hockey community are searching for answers.
Greeson never spoke to police. Gwinnett police spokeswoman Michele Pihera said a detective was working on an arrest warrant when Greeson took his own life.
So far, no one else has come forward to report sexual abuse, and the criminal case is now considered “cleared” by suicide, she said.
Pihera declined to give details about the investigation, including whether other team personnel had been interviewed. The department did not respond to multiple requests to interview Police Chief Butch Ayers.
USA Hockey, the governing organization for amateur hockey in the United States from pee-wee leagues to the Olympics, is investigating the allegations and a representative has already met with parents.
Dave Fischer, spokesman for the Colorado Springs, Colo.,-based association, said USA Hockey is actively looking for any additional victims. The organization has set up avenues for parents to communicate their concerns anonymously, if they wish, he said.
“It’s going to be ongoing until we are satisfied that the people who want to talk have talked,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we know in these situations where there is one, there is more than one who could have suffered abuse,” Fischer said. “We want to make sure we fully understand the landscape and see if there are things that could have been done to prevent this.”
USA Hockey General Counsel Casey Jorgenson said in an email to parents that he’s spoken to “several parents from the program who have called to express concerns about the abuse.”
“USA Hockey is very concerned about this situation,” Jorgenson wrote. “The players and families that came forward about Mr. Greeson’s abuse are extraordinarily courageous.”
In 2013, in the wake of high-profile scandals involving young athletes sexually abused by predatory coaches, USA Hockey introduced a new training regimen and safety protocols known as SafeSport dealing with everything from locker room policies to social media prohibitions and hazing.
Fischer said Greeson had taken all of the SafeSport training and passed a background check. He said there had been no prior allegations of sexual misconduct against the coach.
Fischer said he was aware that Greeson held an annual, week-long “bonding camp” at the IceForum arena where young boys were encouraged to stay overnight, despite a lack of sleeping accommodations. Without more investigation, Fischer said he could not say whether the camp was a violation of SafeSport protocols, but he said investigators were “most certainly” looking into it.
“We’re heard the same thing,” he said, regarding the unusual camp.
He said USA Hockey was informed last Thursday of the allegations and moved quickly to remove Greeson pending an investigation. Fischer said the organization learned of Greeson’s suicide inside of two hours after advising local officials to suspend him. Since then, he said, USA Hockey has been communicating with Atlanta Phoenix Hockey Club officials on a daily basis.
Fischer declined to elaborate on the alleged abuse by Greeson or say whether the organization has heard from any additional families.
“I can’t get into, at this time, specifics of that nature,” he said. “As we know more, we will share more.”
Greeson spent at least five years as a head coach of the Phoenix’s Midget 16 AA team. He was an assistant coach before that for a youth team that won a national championship, according to his staff biography, which has since been removed from the team website.
Fischer said no other local officials have been suspended as a result of the allegations.
“They are still in place. There has been nothing that would lead us (to suspect them), at least at this point. Again, that could change in an hour,” he said. “The bottom line is we want to know as much as we possibly can.”
Greeson’s body was found in the parking lot of what was once Lanier Islands Community Church. The building is currently not in use, and the church where Greeson was found is not active, according to the Hall Sheriff’s spokesman Derreck Booth.
Booth said Greeson didn’t have any affiliation with the facility or previous congregation. He said Greeson apparently contacted a family member and indicated he intended to commit suicide. The family member found him and contacted police.