Allegations Against John Coughlin ‘Sent Him Over the Edge’ Before Apparent Suicide, Says Coach

Former U.S. figure skater John Coughlin, who died of an apparent suicide on Friday, hit a very low point after he was suspended from the sport the previous day, his longtime coach tells PEOPLE.

“I’m am saddened with great grief that a young man who was the kindest, caring, and an extremely admired person hit such a low point because of the loss of all he knows. John lost his reputation, his name, his work, his dignity and what he loved most, skating,” Coughlin’s coach of over 20 years, Dalilah Sappenfield, tells PEOPLE.

“The irresponsibility of today’s social media, whose opinions became trial and persecution, is what led this beautiful young man to give up on life,” she adds. “John was a very caring and selfless person. Always putting others ahead of himself. The incredible amount of love and support he is receiving from around the world is a testament to that and to the positive effect he had on everyone. He was an amazing ambassador for our sport.”

Coughlin died at age 33 in Kansas City, Missouri, on Friday, according to his sister Angela Laune.

On Thursday, SafeSport called for a “temporary suspension” of Coughlin — 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 — 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.”

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.

Sappenfield, who not only worked with Coughlin for over two decades but was a member of his second family, went on to share that the skater “didn’t have a mean bone in his body.”

“He was a beautiful soul who saw the good in everyone. He made you smile with his infectious laugh,” she continued. “John was a man of great integrity and just such a class act. This is the John I know. Everyone knew John was one of the good guys.”

“Being shunned for allegations not proven was something I knew was hard for him to live with, but the mere rumors of assault and not being given the opportunity to defend himself is what sent him over the edge,” she added. “I certainly support that abuse of any kind should never be tolerated and that victims should have a vehicle to address and stop abuse. However, it is my sincere hope that through John’s tragic death, we can build awareness to bring change to the process of investigation so that BOTH parties could exercise their constitutional rights to due process and privacy.”

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Although the details of SafeSport’s investigation are unknown, a source familiar with their process previous told PEOPLE, “a suspension means there have been enough allegations or concern about safety to where we say, ‘This person just cannot participate at all.’ “

While some people have been calling for SafeSport to continue their investigation into Coughlin, the source said 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.”

Following his death, Coughlin’s loved ones have been “overwhelmed by the outpouring of warm thoughts and prayers,” his family said in a statement provided to PEOPLE by Fireworks Sports Marketing.

“We are devastated by the untimely passing of our beloved son and brother, John Coughlin,” his family said. “John was a true champion on and off the ice, devoted to his family and passionate about his life in skating.”

Cheryl Laird-Wilde, one of the staff coaches at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, a training ground for many top figure skaters, also remembers Coughlin warmly.

He was “always the most kindest, sweetest person you would ever meet,” she tells PEOPLE. “This gentle giant. He always had a smile, always had a hello, how you doing. Just a pleasure to see when you’re walking in and out.”

“He was a beautiful skater…a treat to watch. He’s gonna be missed dearly,” she adds.

Kimber Moore, a close friend of Coughlin’s in the skating community, also tells PEOPLE the skater “will be sorely missed.”

“I knew John for over 20 years and he was one of the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met,” she says. “He will be sorely missed in our sport as he was one of the good guys.”

The Kansas City Police Department has not yet issued a police report on Coughlin’s death, but Sergeant Jake Becchina previously 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.

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.

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