After alleged rape by Michigan athlete, a woman’s death and a mom’s search for answers

 Police and university officials closed their cases without questioning the football player. With the woman dead, they decided not to pursue it.

On a cold January day in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Mary Moffett sat in an oversized chair in her living room, flipped to a blank page in her notepad and wrote a letter.

Once finished, she typed it up and printed two copies: one addressed to University of Michigan athletic director Warde Manuel, the other to Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh.

“I am writing to you as a mother who is grieving the loss of her 22 year-old-daughter,” the Jan. 21, 2021, letter read. “I am writing and tell you this, as a Michigan football player is partially responsible for her death.”

“Whatever happened back in 2018,” Moffett wrote to Harbaugh and Manuel, “was the catalyst for so much of the pain, sadness, and depression that took away the beautiful light she was, and left her struggling so much for the last few years.”

Moffett didn’t know it at the time, but her letter would land with the university’s Title IX office, campus police, the Ann Arbor Police Department and the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office. They would all look into the allegations. Within about two months, all of them would drop it. 

The police would never try to question the three players or anyone else in the football program about the incident and possible video evidence. The school would decline to launch a formal investigation and never speak to the athlete accused of the assault, who had transferred to another university. No one would talk to a fourth player, who told USA TODAY he had been invited over that night but was turned away at the door by his teammates. 

With Quinn dead, the authorities would decide it wasn’t worth pursuing. 

At a time when 1 in 5 female students are raped in college, Quinn’s case raises questions about what schools and law enforcement agencies owe their communities when people who have said they were sexually assaulted are unable to tell their stories. The law provides the floor of what the authorities must do. Some experts say they should do more.

Given the seriousness of the allegations, it was incumbent on the university to investigate for the safety of others on campus, said Cari Simon, an attorney who represents sexual assault survivors. 

Senior photos captured Quinn Moffett’s enthusiasm as she finished high school. Friends described her as spontaneous and adventurous, with a contagious laugh.

“To say, ‘We can’t do anything about it because she died’ – that’s a pretty concerning mechanism for dismissing a case,” Simon said. “Is that somewhere you would feel comfortable continuing to get your education, knowing that’s what happened, and that the school did nothing?”

When Moffett wrote the letter, she says, she wasn’t looking for someone to be punished. She wanted Harbaugh and Manuel to know what her daughter said happened. 

It was the responsibility of the Michigan athletic department and football staff, Moffett wrote, “to make these athletes understand that their actions have real consequences, ones that they can not even imagine.” In her daughter’s case, she said, one athlete’s actions had “devastated an entire family.”

“The University of Michigan can, and has to do better,” her last paragraph read. “It is too late for my precious daughter, but on behalf of all the young women on campus and in the community, I beg you to DO MORE.”

Moffett mailed the letters to Manuel’s and Harbaugh’s home addresses to make sure they would read them. She left her name, phone number and email address at the bottom. She wasn’t expecting a response.

Three weeks later, her phone rang. It was Harbaugh.

The call between Harbaugh and Moffett lasted 17 minutes, her phone records show. She was sure he had read the letter because he quoted from it, she said. He expressed his sympathy and asked about Quinn. She felt he genuinely cared.

Harbaugh, a former NFL coach and quarterback whose $7.5 million salary the previous year made him the state’s highest-paid public employee, declined to be interviewed. A university spokesperson said he “is not able to talk with you about his private conversations.” 

In a statement to USA TODAY, Harbaugh said he generally is prohibited in sexual misconduct cases “from investigating, influencing, or, in most situations, disciplining an individual on the team until the appropriate university process reaches its conclusion.” Federal Title IX regulations adopted by the U.S. Department of Education in 2020 also forbid coaches from disciplining players without a finding of fault in a disciplinary proceeding. 

Moffett told him all that she knew, she said. How Quinn’s mental health had deteriorated in the 2½ years after the incident. How she self-harmed and turned to drugs. 

Harbaugh asked if Moffett knew the player’s name, she recalled; she told him she did not, but Quinn’s friends might. According to Moffett, Harbaugh said he didn’t want that type of person on his team or representing the school.

 He gave Moffett his cellphone number. Call me, she remembers him saying, if you find out his name.

A life of laughter – and some hard times

In high school, Quinn Moffett was fun, sweet and supportive, her friends said.
In high school

Quinn Tierney Moffett was born and raised in Ypsilanti, a city 10 minutes from the University of Michigan’s Ann Arbor campus. She grew up in a three-bedroom house near a golf course with her mom, dad and two older sisters. 

Her friends and family described Quinn as bubbly and energetic with a contagious laugh. Funny and positive, she could make light of the darkest situations. She worked as a youth camp counselor in the summers and volunteered at the University of Michigan hospital. She adored animals. She devoured pasta and breadsticks. Her friends could always rely on her for support, they said, even as she rarely asked for help herself.

Quinn’s life was not without hardship. She had been talented enough to play lacrosse in college, said Lindsie Rogers, her best friend and former teammate at Pioneer High School. But an ACL tear during a game her junior year put a damper on those dreams. 

The same year, her father, who had been diagnosed with a incurable form of cancer, was found unconscious at work and rushed to the hospital. He went into cardiac arrest. He spent six weeks in the hospital, unconscious for three of them. For a time, doctors didn’t think he would make it, but he pulled through.

Among Quinn Moffett’s many high school activities, she played two sports: lacrosse and field hockey.

In 2017, Quinn started college 200 miles south in Dayton, Ohio, studying health sciences at her mom’s alma mater, the University of Dayton. She wanted to be a physical therapist, having watched her dad go through therapy after his recovery and having gone through it herself for her ACL. She seemed to do well in school her first year, her mother said, and had no problem making friends. 

Hannah Ilyavi, a Dayton graduate, met Quinn in line at an ice cream shop on campus a few weeks into their freshman year. She said they bonded instantly. 

“She just stood out to me immediately because she was just so confident and beautiful and very lively,” Ilyavi said. “Right away, I was like, ‘I want to be friends with this girl.’”

They did everything together: studied, ate at restaurants, partied, went on road trips. They decided to become roommates their second year and moved off campus into an apartment. 

The summer before sophomore year, Quinn went back to Ypsilanti to live at home and work at summer camp. When she returned to Dayton that fall, she seemed normal at first, Ilyavi said. But over the next few months, Ilyavi noticed Quinn’s behavior change. 

There were stretches when she was her happy, fun-loving self, followed by bouts of debilitating depression. By their senior year, Ilyavi said, Quinn seemed like a different person.

“She didn’t have that same confidence and spark when she walked in the room anymore,” Ilyavi said. “That was completely gone.” 

Shards of memories begin to coalesce

Late one night in August 2018, when Quinn was still home for the summer, she woke her mother up, sobbing. Blood was running down her leg. She had slit her thigh, on purpose.

Moffett rushed her daughter to the bathroom to clean her up. She had never known Quinn to cut herself. As they sat together on Quinn’s bed, she described a sexual assault she said had happened a month earlier, in the early hours of July 15.

USA TODAY spoke to seven friends and family members who said Quinn disclosed details of the incident to them, in some cases the day after, and a woman who was with Quinn that night. Quinn also recounted specifics of the alleged assault in text messages with two more friends in early 2019 and in a speech she gave in April 2019 at a school event where survivors share their stories. 

In the days and weeks after the incident, Quinn Moffett began to recall details of the night.

The news organization reviewed copies of the speech, texts and cellphone call logs that support aspects of her account. Seven months after it allegedly occurred, Quinn also disclosed the incident to an administrator at the University of Dayton, according to a report the school provided to her mother.

Quinn and a friend had gone out to the Study Hall Lounge, a nightclub two blocks from the Michigan campus, where the friend attended college. At the club, they ran into three Wolverines football players who bought them drinks. Quinn hadn’t met them before, but the friend said she knew two of them from a class.

USA TODAY is not naming the friend because it generally does not publish names of alleged sexual assault victims unless they agree to it. She shared text messages from the time corroborating her account and gave similar statements to University of Michigan and Ann Arbor city police in February and March 2021, police reports show. The Ann Arbor report listed her and Moffett as “co-complainants.”

According to accounts from Quinn and her friend, they returned to the friend’s apartment at around 2 a.m. with the athletes. They continued drinking from a bottle of dark liquor one of the men brought. Everyone took a few shots. That was the two women's last clear memory of the night.

When Quinn woke up at home the next morning, she did not remember how she got there, she said in text messages. She had gone home without her wallet or shoes. Her friend said she found Quinn’s Birkenstocks at her apartment, covered in vomit. 

The friend, who believes she and Quinn were drugged, told USA TODAY she threw up at some point. She also remembered a man’s heavy arm draped over her while she was in bed, and wanting to cry.

Quinn (blue) and her friend (gray) piece together details of the night in the days after the July 2018 incident.

The friend woke up the next day with one of the athletes in her bed naked, she said. She worried she had been assaulted. A used condom was in her bedroom trash can. She had messaged two friends around 5 a.m. asking for help, she said, but no longer has the messages. 

Her toilet also wouldn’t flush for the next several days, the friend said. Her apartment’s maintenance people eventually fished out parts of a broken glass bottle, which she believed was the liquor bottle the athletes had brought. She wondered if they had drugged the alcohol and then tried to flush the evidence.

Over the next three days, the friend and Quinn texted each other, trying to piece together details of the night. Quinn initially wrote that she thought she had “hooked up” with one of the athletes; another friend who saw her later that day said Quinn wasn’t so sure. 

Rogers, Quinn’s best friend from high school, said that when she saw Quinn the afternoon after the incident, she seemed “extremely confused.” Quinn did not think she had drunk enough to black out, Rogers said. Quinn told her she felt like she had had sex – but barely remembered anything. 

“I think she was so confused and so unsure of what happened that it made her not know how to react,” Rogers said. “She wasn’t sure when it happened, what happened, and with who it happened, but she was like, ‘I’m pretty sure all three of them were there in the room with me.’”

Impairment from alcohol or drugs can severely limit the completeness of a person’s memory but has little effect on the accuracy of memories, said Jim Hopper, an independent memory and trauma expert and teaching associate for Harvard Medical School. In a highly stressful situation such as a rape, the brain can burn central details into long-term memory, Hopper said. Days, weeks, months, years, even decades can pass before context or cues trigger their retrieval.

In the weeks and months that followed, Quinn told people that troubling details started coming back.

In text messages to two friends in early 2019 and in her speech that April, Quinn described sitting on top of one of the men on a couch, topless, wondering why her shirt was across the room and trying to cover herself with her hands. She tried to get off, she said, but the man was holding her down. She then recalled being on the floor and him shoving her head onto his penis. She remembered saying “no” and “stop” over and over. Another man was holding up a phone with the flash on, she said. 

Quinn (blue) recalls details of the night in a January 2019 text message conversation with a close friend (gray).

At some point, she broke free and ran to the bathroom. The next day, she said, she noticed her shirt was torn. 

“There’s a blackness between all of that so maybe I said yes and liked it,” Quinn wrote to one of the friends. “The parts I do remember I remember I wanted to stop.”

A few weeks after the incident, Quinn was ready to tell her mom. Moffett said Quinn feared the same man might have assaulted her friend after she left the apartment. 

Quinn refused to call the police. She was ashamed, Moffett said, and wanted to move past it. Moffett asked the football players’ names. She said Quinn wouldn’t tell her.

A public speech lays out the details

When Quinn got back to Dayton in August 2018, she poured her energy into helping others.

She worked for a student organization called Peers Advocating for Violence Education, said Megan O’Gara, a Dayton alumna and friend of Quinn’s who spent three years with the group. O’Gara said Quinn co-coordinated events for domestic violence awareness month, gave presentations to freshmen about “consent culture” and trained sports teams about relationship violence.

In April 2019, Quinn spoke publicly about her alleged assault at Take Back The Night, an annual event at colleges where survivors share their stories. In the speech, a copy of which Quinn sent others and saved on her phone, she said she had tried hard to believe she consented because she did not want to face the alternative. 

“I was overtaken with guilt and shame,” her speech said. “I still can barely say the word that describes what was done to me. But I was raped. I was drugged and raped and there is probably videos of it out there somewhere. As hard as that is to say, being able to say it is the start of healing.”

that is to say, being able to say it is the start of healing.”

A written copy from Quinn Moffett’s cellphone of a speech she gave in April 2019 at the University of Dayton’s Take Back The Night event.
A written copy from Quinn Take Back The Night event.COURTESY OF ME/USA TODAY NETWORK; GETTY IMAGES

Privately, Quinn struggled. 

In February 2019, she told a Dayton administrator she had been dealing with depression, anxiety, thoughts of self-harm and suicide after “being sexually assaulted (and likely drugged) by a Michigan football player,” according to associate dean of students Debra Monk’s report documenting the conversation. Provided to her mother four years later, the report said Monk had performed a “welfare check” on Quinn after her office received multiple reports of people concerned about her well-being. 

The report noted Quinn had been thinking about reporting the incident to Dayton’s Title IX office and University of Michigan officials but opted not to. Quinn agreed to see a counselor at Dayton instead.

Quinn’s mother visited her often in Dayton and encouraged her to make an appointment at the University of Michigan’s Depression Center, she said, but Quinn did not follow through. She missed classes and lacked motivation. Her grades slipped. 

The second part of Quinn Moffett’s April 2019 speech.
The second part of Quinn ; GETTY IMAGES

Her roommate, Ilyavi, remembered that Quinn had a hard time getting out of bed. She seemed less outgoing and bubbly than in her freshman year, and more reserved and insecure. She was drinking more often. Most concerning, she was using cocaine, Ilyavi said, and buying Percocet from a drug dealer.

Every so often, Quinn called or texted her high school friend, Rogers, saying she was depressed and having suicidal thoughts. She continued to harm herself, Rogers said, cutting her leg on at least two or three occasions. Each time, Rogers would talk to her on the phone until she started feeling better. 

On top of dealing with the trauma from the assault, Rogers said, Quinn’s father’s illness wore on her mental health. Without sports as an outlet, Rogers said, Quinn turned to drugs and partying. She recalled Quinn increasingly using cocaine and taking pain pills – something Rogers said she had done a handful of times before the alleged assault.

Whether directly or indirectly, Rogers believes Quinn’s assault contributed to her death.

“It 100% led to her having more depressive episodes that lasted a lot longer,” Rogers said, “if not lasted permanently.” 

A downward spiral and increased drug use

The next summer, Quinn started dating Kenny Sponaugle, a regional sales manager from Ann Arbor she had met through a mutual friend. She disclosed the assault to him on their first date, Sponaugle told USA TODAY, along with other sexually and emotionally abusive experiences she had with men. 

Sponaugle said he knew Quinn used cocaine. He believed that she did it to escape reality and that her assault drove her to use it. He said she was never addicted. 

Back in Dayton, Quinn’s roommates had already noticed her occasional drug use becoming more frequent, said Sam Benziger, who had moved into the apartment her junior year. By the fall of senior year, Benziger said, Quinn was using cocaine almost every day. 


In November 2020, Benziger and Ilyavi became so alarmed that they called Quinn’s mother. Moffett drove down to Dayton the next morning. Quinn came home to Ypsilanti two weeks later. 

Quinn remained down over Christmas, said Moffett and Quinn’s sisters. She didn’t want to participate in family activities, like decorating the tree. 

She told Ilyavi around New Year’s Eve that she had slowed her drug use since returning home. Her text messages tell a different story, showing she made several trips to nearby Van Buren Township during that time to buy cocaine from a dealer.

On the morning of Jan. 6, 2021, Sponaugle woke up at his house and noticed Quinn was not in bed, he would tell police. She had stayed the night, but he didn’t see her anywhere. Then he checked the bathroom. 

Quinn was lying on the floor. Her body was cold. Sponaugle screamed and called 911. 

Paramedics pronounced her dead at the scene, a police report shows. As investigators moved her body into a medical transport bag, a detective noticed an “unknown white substance” in Quinn’s left nostril.

Names of the accused emerge

Moffett had ended her Feb. 9, 2021, call with Harbaugh with a sense of hope that the players Quinn accused might face some form of justice. 

She started calling Quinn’s friends and ex-roommates, asking what Quinn had told them about the incident. Some of them said Quinn had told them the athletes’ names.

The alleged perpetrator had since transferred to another university. The other two players who were there that night remained at Michigan.

None of the players responded to requests for comment for this story. USA TODAY contacted them via phone, email, social media and through spokespeople for their schools and football teams. During that outreach effort, the alleged perpetrator blocked a reporter on Twitter.

“After the rape, I would say she lost her sparkle,” Mary Moffett said of her daughter, Quinn Moffett.
“After the rape, I would say she lost her sparkle,SARAPRESS

USA TODAY is not identifying the men because neither Quinn nor her friend who was with her the night of the alleged incident filed a police complaint against them, and none of the three were charged with a crime or disciplined by their school.

In late February 2021, Moffett called Harbaugh three times, phone records show, to tell him the names. He didn’t pick up, and Moffett said his voicemail box was full. Instead, Moffett disclosed the names to Elizabeth Seney, the school’s Title IX coordinator who oversees its response to sexual assault complaints, and asked her to share them with Harbaugh.

Seney first reached out to Moffett on Feb. 5, 2021, an email shows. She had learned of the allegations when Manuel – the athletic director – forwarded her Moffett’s letter, according to a police report.

Seney alerted campus police, who referred the matter to the Ann Arbor Police Department because the incident happened off campus. Emails show Detective Robin Lee of Ann Arbor police asked Seney to hold off conducting a Title IX investigation while she determined if there could be a criminal case.

Police investigation goes nowhere

The criminal and Title IX investigation processes are separate, with distinct goals. 

Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education, requires schools to address sexual misconduct reports to ensure victims can remain in school and that others on campus are safe. Whereas criminal cases can lead to arrests and convictions, Title IX investigations can result in disciplinary action by the school, including campus bans and enrollment restrictions even if the perpetrator no longer attends. 

The investigation by Ann Arbor police lasted about two weeks, a police report shows. Lee, the detective, interviewed the friend who was with Quinn the night of the incident, then consulted with Amy Reiser, an assistant prosecutor in the sex crimes and child abuse units of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office. 

The allegations were considered hearsay, Lee wrote in the report, summarizing the March 11 consultation. Lee wrote that she would “document the information provided as an information report” for Quinn’s family. The same day, Lee told Seney she did not have a “cooperative witness,” the report shows, as the friend “did not want to move forward with a criminal complaint.” 

Detective Robin Lee of Ann Arbor Police Department summarized her conversation with the University of Michigan’s Title IX coordinator, Elizabeth Seney, in a police report, saying she did not have a “cooperative witness.”
Detective Robin Lee of Ann Arbor Police Department summarized her conversation with the University of Michigan’s Title IX coordinator, Elizabeth Seney, in a police report, saying she did not have a “cooperative witness.”ANN ARBOR POLICE DEPARTMENT;ONE; GETTY IMAGES

Lee proceeded to interview Ilyavi and Rogers, the police report shows. Each corroborated aspects of Quinn’s account. Moffett also provided Quinn’s speech to Lee, who wrote that it didn’t change things because it didn’t mention the perpetrator by name.

Lee logged no other updates in the case for nine months while repeatedly telling Moffett that the report was not yet available for release, the report shows. She closed the case in December 2021. The report was released to Moffett the following month. 

The report gives no indication that Lee ever tried to interview the alleged perpetrator or the other two players who were there that night. Nor does it indicate Lee contacted others on the football team to determine whether the athletes had talked about the incident or whether photos or videos had been shared.

The friend had also given Lee the name of a fourth Michigan football player, O’Maury Samuels, as a potential witness, the police report indicates. 

Bonnie Theil, an Ann Arbor police lieutenant
I guess I would ask, ‘What would we be doing that for?’ For her mother to feel like she knew what happened that night? Or are we doing it to try and get criminal charges and take somebody to trial?
In the days and weeks after the incident, Quinn 
Senior photos captured Quinn  enthusiasm as she finished high school. Friends described her as spontaneous and adventurous, with a contagious laugh.

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