Former Chandler High swim coach Bob Chen died by suicide Aug. 8, 48 hours after he was arrested in Mesa as part of a large East Valley human-trafficking sting that led to the arrest of 17 other men.
Chen, who recently had taken a position as head coach for a program in California, was an assistant coach at Chandler High for three years before taking over as head coach in 2020 after the COVID-19 death of former coach Kerry Croswhite.
Chen was also a longtime coach for the Rio Salado Swim Club, coaching two athletes to this year’s Olympic Trials.
Three police agencies confirmed Chen’s arrest, including the Mesa Police Department, the lead agency in the sting. Chen was arrested by Scottsdale PD on suspicion of four charges, including an attempt to have sex with a 14-year-old girl.
Also involved in the "human sex trafficking reduction operation" were the state Attorney general’s Office, Homeland Security and Tempe Police.
David Tait, the director and owner of Rio Salado Swim Club, said Chen was arrested Friday afternoon after downloading an “underground” application to his phone used to solicit child prostitutes.
Police said Chen initially requested to meet with an underage girl. Upon arriving at the agreed-upon destination, Chen had second thoughts and left before meeting her, according to Tait.
Upon leaving the site, he was pulled over by Scottsdale Police and arrested.
Tait said Chen spent the night in jail and was released Saturday. He was assigned a parole officer, curfew, ankle monitoring device and had his phone confiscated by police.
“To my knowledge, there was no bail or bond; he was released on his own,” Tait said. “We would not have bailed him out.”
A distraught Chen contacted Patrick Tolson, the development team director for Rio Salado, after his release from a prepaid phone.
According to Tait, Tolson interrogated Chen, who denied any acts of this nature taking place with swimmers he has coached in the past.
Chen did admit to soliciting prostitutes in the past, but had said this was the first instance where the female was underage, according to Tait.
“They were looking at each other square in the face but we don’t put any stock in that,” Tait said. “We are going to further investigate in case there are other victims.”
Kristin Adair, who took over for Chen as head coach of the club, went to Chen’s home before he and Tolson arrived.
Aware Chen had become suicidal, she and Chen’s parents removed anything he could use to harm himself, including his gun.
On Sunday, Chen slipped out of the home without his family’s knowledge and used a spare set of keys to access his car. He then drove to C2 Tactical Gun Range in Tempe, where he rented a weapon and used it on himself.
“It was our plan Monday to contact an attorney and get in touch with USA Swimming Safe Sport, but he ended up killing himself Sunday afternoon,” Tait said. “Our first reaction was to protect the kids and get them help.
“I sent an email Sunday night explaining Bob had committed suicide. We didn’t release these other details because we wanted the parents to be able to talk to their kids before they went to school.
“On Monday we lined up trained therapists and then Tuesday we had a meeting with parents where shared the details openly, honestly and transparently so everybody could take the information and share it with their children in the best way they know how.”
Tait added he and the other Rio Salado coaches wanted to get the information out to parents to identify other children who may have been harmed.
“We don’t believe there have been other children, we don’t have any reason to believe there have been, but if there were we wanted to find out who they are and get them the proper support,” he said.
Chandler Unified School District spokesperson Terry Locke said the district was made aware of the charges against Chen on Tuesday. He was not employed by the district at the time of his arrest.
Jim Culver, the athletic director at Chandler, informed the school’s swimmers of his death on Monday morning. He was unaware of the charges brought against the former coach at the time.
“We had a meeting this morning with our swimmers and staff on campus to share the sad news,” Culver said. “Our counselors and school administration were present as well as coaching staff.”
Chen’s death rattled the Chandler High community, which was still reeling after the loss of Croswhite last year. The school’s aquatics complex was named after him in December to celebrate his legacy at the school.
That same month, Chandler swimmer Brisa Vasquez lost both of her parents just hours apart from the virus. Tony and Lisa Vasquez were part of the team’s booster club.
Tait said while Chen had success as a coach at various levels, there may never be a time in which his legacy can be discussed.
“I told the parents choices have consequences,” Tait said. “One of Bob’s consequences here is this information coming to light. We are going to do the right thing with this information. That comes before any talk about Bob’s reputation or legacy.
“The kids are first, and we are going to protect the kids first. That’s our singular goal right now.”