This season, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o was lionized for playing football after the death of his grandmother, who died of natural causes after a long illness, and his girlfriend, Lennay Marie Kekua, who died of leukemia.
Kekua, whom Te’o called “the love of my life,” and Te’o’s grandmother died hours apart before Notre Dame played Michigan State in mid-September. Te’o, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting, dedicated the season to them. And the national press and the college football world lauded him for his impeccable character.
On Wednesday, Deadspin, after an exhaustive investigation, revealed that this girlfriend, Lennay Marie Kekua, never existed. Her death was a hoax. And there are more questions than answers. Notre Dame has claimed, in a statement, that Te’o was actually the victim–and not the perpetrator–of this hoax. Te’o also released a statement saying he was “embarrassed” because he was duped by a woman with whom he had an online relationship.
But Deadspin’s reporting indicates that Te’o–and perhaps even members of his family–may have been complicit in perpetuating the hoax. One source claimed he was “80 percent sure” Te’o was involved in the hoax for publicity reasons.
According to Deadspin, there is no Social Security record of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua. There is no funeral announcement, obituary, or mention of Lennay’s death in the even the Stanford student newspaper:
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The photographs identified as Kekua–in online tributes and on TV news reports–are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.
Deadspin got in contact with the 22-year-old woman, who lives in Torrance, CA. That woman, according to Deadspin, was “horrified to find that she had become the face of a dead woman” and told Deadspin that the photo television networks, like CBS, used of the Teo’s supposedly dead girlfriend was a “picture of me from my Facebook account.”
Here is a timeline of Te’o’s “relationship” with “Lennay Kekua,” as compiled by Deadspin:
Nov. 28, 2009: Te’o and Kekua meet after Stanford’s 45-38 victory over Notre Dame in Palo Alto, according to the South Bend Tribune.
2010-2011: Te’o’s father, Brian, told the Tribune in October 2012: “Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there.”
Some time in 2012: Kekua has a car accident somewhere in California that leaves her “on the brink of death” (Sports Illustrated). But when? Eight months before she died of cancer, in September, reports ESPN. “About the time Kekua and Manti became a couple,” reports the South Bend Tribune. April 28, reports SI.
Sept. 11-12, 2012: Te’o’s grandmother dies in Hawaii. Later, Kekua dies in California. Or is it the other way around? “Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died Sept. 11 of complications from leukemia. His grandma, Annette Santiago, died after a long illness less than 24 hours later,” according to the Sept. 22 South Bend Tribune. No, Annette dies first, according to the Oct. 12 South Bend Tribune. In fact, Lennay lives long enough to express condolences over the death of Annette
Sept. 22, 2012: Kekua’s funeral takes place in Carson, Calif. (The Associated Press puts it in “Carson City, Calif.,” which does not exist.) Te’o skips the funeral, saying Kekua had insisted that he not miss a game (Los Angeles Times). Her casket is closed at 9 a.m. Pacific time, according to Te’o. That night, Notre Dame beats Michigan.Te’o intercepts two passes. After the game, he says of Lennay: “All she wanted was some white roses. So I sent her roses and sent her two picks along with that.” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly awards the game ball to Lennay Kekua, handing it to Te’o to “take back to Hawaii.”
As Deadspin discovered, Te’o and “Kekua” originally met on Twitter on Oct. 10, 2011: “@MTeo_5
@LovaLovaloveyou nice to meet u too ma’am.”
According to Deadspin, the woman, whom Deadspin is calling “Reba” to protect her identity, remembered a strange request from a friend with whom she went to high school:
His cousin had been in a serious car accident, and he had seen her photos before and thought she was pretty. Would she be so kind as to take a picture of herself holding up a sign reading “MSMK,” to put in a slideshow to support the cousin’s recovery? (He didn’t explain what MSMK meant, and Reba still doesn’t know.) Baffled but trusting, Reba made the sign and sent along the photo.
When Reba called the classmate after being informed her picture was on the Twitter account of a supposedly dead woman, the classmate “immediately began acting weird.”
That classmate was a former star high school quarterback named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who is friends with Te’o:
“Manti and Ronaiah are family,” she said, “or at least family friends.” She told us that the Tuiasosopos had been on-field guests (of Te’o or someone else, she didn’t know) for the Nov. 24 Notre Dame-USC game in Los Angeles.
In addition, Tuiasosopo had been in a car accident a month before Lennay supposedly died. Deadspin “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.
To recap this head-spinning story, Deadspin wrote:
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. Lennay Kekua’s last words to Manti Te’o were not “I love you.”
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s friend also told Deadspin that he was “80 percent sure” that Manti Te’o was “in on it,” and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind. Deadspin called a cellphone for Manti Te’o but the number was “not accepting calls.” Brian Te’o, Manti’s father, texted Deadspin that he was in a meeting. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo “did not answer his phone or respond to multiple text messages.”
On Wednesday, Notre Dame released this statement:
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 this statement on Wednesday:
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 symptathies 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 family, friends, and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship 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 are far more cautious 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.