Deadspin.com's Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey recently revealed a report claiming that Manti Te'o's deceased girlfriend is a hoax.
UPDATE: Wednesday, Jan. 16, at 6:23 p.m. ET by Ian Hanford
Te'o issued a statement regarding the situation Wednesday evening (via ESPN):
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.
---End of Update---
In the report, Burke and Dickey claim that the story of Lennay Kekua—Te'o's 22-year-old girlfriend who allegedly died of leukemia last September—was a complete hoax.
Let's take a look at the most notable claims from their investigation.
Lennay Kekua Is Actually Someone from Facebook
According to the report, the picture of Kekua that floated around the Internet and even in news reports is a random woman from Facebook:
This week, we got in touch with a woman living in Torrance, Calif. We'll call her Reba, to protect her identity. She was initially confused, then horrified to find that she had become the face of a dead woman. "That picture," she told us over the phone, "is a picture of me from my Facebook account."
In fact, all pictures of Kekua were taken from the same Facebook account (whose owner was kept anonymous):
All of those photographs—with one important exception—came from the private Facebook and Instagram accounts of Reba, whom we found after an exhaustive related-images search of each of Lennay's images (most of which had been modified in some way to prevent reverse image searching). We sent her a number of photographs that had appeared on Lennay's Twitter account, which is now private but apparently still active (see this retweet, for instance). One picture in particular brought Reba to a start. It had been used briefly as @LoveMSMK's Twitter avatar and later in the background of the page (we've blurred out the face, at Reba's request).
Te'o's Family Had Never Met Kekua
Around October (after reports of Kekua's death), it was revealed that Te'o's parents and brother had never met his girlfriend:
And it was around this time that Manti and his father began filling in details about the linebacker's relationship with Lennay. Brian Te'o told multiple reporters that the family had never met Kekua; the Te'os were supposed to spend time with her when they visited South Bend, Ind., for Notre Dame's Senior Day on Nov. 17. The elder Te'o told the South Bend Tribune in October, "[W]e came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law. Sadly, it won't happen now."
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo Is the Creator of Kekua
Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old former football prospect who knew Te'o and had been in a car accident just a month before Kekua's supposed car accident, is thought to be "the man behind Lennay."
Was this Lennay Kekua? We spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. 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.
A friend of Tuiasosopo, according to Burke and Dickey, said that he was "80 percent sure" that Manti Te'o helped craft the plan with publicity in mind.
Moreover, there were several photos of Ronaiah and Manti together on Tuiasosopo's Instagram account, which has since been deleted.
Burke and Dickey sum up the entire report with this chilling paragraph:
There was no Lennay Kekua. Lennay Kekua did not meet Manti Te'o after the Stanford game in 2009. Lennay Kekua did not attend Stanford. Lennay Kekua never visited Manti Te'o in Hawaii. Lennay Kekua was not in a car accident. Lennay Kekua did not talk to Manti Te'o every night on the telephone. She was not diagnosed with cancer, did not spend time in the hospital, did not engage in a lengthy battle with leukemia. She never had a bone marrow transplant. She was not released from the hospital on Sept. 10, nor did Brian Te'o congratulate her for this over the telephone. She did not insist that Manti Te'o play in the Michigan State or Michigan games, and did not request he send white flowers to her funeral. Her favorite color was not white. Her brother, Koa, did not inform Manti Te'o that she was dead. Koa did not exist. Her funeral did not take place in Carson, Calif., and her casket was not closed at 9 a.m. exactly. She was not laid to rest.
A funeral, as earlier stated, that Te'o did not attend.
Notre Dame Football's Response
After the report was filed, Notre Dame football came back with this response via Facebook:
Notre Dame Statement: Manti Te’o
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.
University Spokesman | Assistant Vice President
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