The young woman whose tragic death captured the national sports media and haunted her boyfriend, Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, reportedly never existed. Te'o now says he was duped.
Deadspin.com reported Wednesday that 22-year-old Lennay Kekua, who posthumously capitulated to fame as Te'o's celebrity grew, was a hoax. In numerous interviews with the likes of Sports Illustrated, the LA Times and ESPN, Te'o and his family recounted how Kekua had been in a serious car accident and was then diagnosed with leukemia.
Te'o reportedly had learned of the deaths of Kekua and his beloved grandmother within six hours of each other last September. His perseverance on the field in the face of such personal tragedy was among the most inspirational stories in college football last season, and was highlighted during his Heisman Trophy campaign.
But how was the media -- and Te'o -- fooled?
According to Deadspin, Kekua was brought to virtual life by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a friend of Te'o's. Tuiasosopo allegedly had used Kekua's online alias before.
He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te'o wasn't the first person to have an online "relationship" with her. One mark—who had been "introduced" to Lennay by Tuiasosopo—lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead. Two sources discounted Ronaiah's stunt as a prank that only metastasized because of Te'o's rise to national celebrity this past season."
Dennis Brown, a spokesperson for Notre Dame, released the following statement Wednesday:
On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia. The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators.
Te'o released a statement to ESPN.com about the hoax, calling it "painful and humiliating".
This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.
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