EVERETT — A former Team USA Climbing athlete and coach was sentenced Thursday to five years in prison followed by five years of probation for sexually abusing two girls he met through climbing.
Alexander Fritz, 28, of Seattle, most recently worked as a coach and route-setter at Vertical World climbing gyms. In February, he was charged with four counts of third-degree child rape after two girls reported he abused them in Snohomish and King counties from 2016 to 2019. Both girls were 15.
In July, Fritz pleaded guilty to the four counts after “extensive” plea deal negotiations between attorneys on the case, deputy prosecutor Jarrett Goodkin said at a sentencing hearing Thursday in Snohomish County Superior Court.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office has been involved in this case,” Goodkin said in court. “There were potential federal charges that could have resulted from these incidents.”
At Thursday’s hearing, the deputy prosecutor and defense attorney Will Gelvick presented the judge with an agreed sentencing recommendation of five years behind bars.
One survivor of Fritz’s alleged abuse read aloud from a letter she wrote to the judge. The survivor asked The Daily Herald to refrain from publishing anything she said in court for privacy and safety reasons.
Gelvick pointed to Fritz’s upbringing at the hearing, saying a family member had been manipulative and had issues with boundaries.
“When he left that family situation, those those were the only skills he had, those were the only skills he knew with regard to relating to people,” Gelvick told the court. “This in no way lessens the harm that he did in these inappropriate relationships. But I believe it does provide the court with some context.”
Earlier this year, an investigator with the U.S. Center for SafeSport contacted Redmond detective Marshall Tolbert about several allegations that Fritz had “relationships” with child athletes.
SafeSport launched an investigation into Fritz in 2019. The case was forwarded to the FBI due to reports the climbing coach had “crossed state lines and international borders for purposes of sex with minors.” The government entities turned the entire case over to the Redmond Police Department to continue the investigation.
Fritz was arrested Feb. 2 and booked into the Snohomish County Jail for investigation of three counts of child rape involving the same girl. A fourth count, involving a second girl, was later added.
Fritz would create a seemingly professional coach-athlete relationship with young female athletes and simultaneously create a bond with their parents, according to charging papers filed in Superior Court weeks after he was arrested. In some cases, he reportedly became close enough with athletes to have them describe him as a member of their family.
“Underneath the professional coach/athlete relationship were secret private communications,” the charges say, “which then became an ‘inappropriate relationship.’”
Fritz would talk to child athletes via text message and social media.
Fritz, originally from Everett, was involved with the local and national climbing community for more than 20 years. The defendant was a coach for the U.S. Olympic Climbing Team in 2018 and 2019, and he often hosted “skills clinics” in the United States and Canada, the charges say.
In a statement posted on the USA Climbing website earlier this year, the organization said it supported the investigation of Fritz.
“USA Climbing is deeply disturbed by the allegations,” wrote Marc Norman, CEO of USA Climbing. “As an organization that prioritizes the safety and protection of our members, we want to thank the U.S. Center for SafeSport and local authorities for their collaboration in promoting that goal.”
The statement says Fritz was suspended from USA Climbing on Dec. 16, 2020.
Fritz apologized for his actions Thursday in court.
“I promise that I will do everything in my power, both in incarceration and afterwards to seek help in the form of deviancy programs and therapy and any other resource that is available to me in order to make those improvements and better myself,” he told the court. “I am sorry, and I always wll be.”
Before handing down her sentence, Judge Cindy Larsen thanked the young woman who spoke in court, referring to her statements as “articulate.” The judge also told the defendant there was no excuse for his actions.
“While your upbringing was hard to read about, that, of course, does not excuse traumatizing and the criminal actions against … young girls.” Larsen said. “You have essentially passed on whatever trauma you felt and multiplied it by quite a lot.”
Judge Larsen said she hoped the sentencing brings some closure for the victims, so that “real healing can begin.”
Ellen Dennis: 425-339-3486; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterellen.
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