Manti Te'o girlfriend's death apparently a hoax

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Not long before Notre Dame played Michigan State last fall, word spread that Fighting Irish linebacker

Manti Te'o had lost his grandmother and girlfriend within hours of each other.

Te'o never missed a practice and made a

season-high 12 tackles, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in a

20-3 victory

against the Spartans. His inspired play became a stirring story

line for the Fighting Irish as they made a run to the national

championship game behind their humble, charismatic star.

Te'o's grandmother did indeed die. His girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, never existed.

In a shocking announcement, Notre Dame said

Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose "death"

from leukemia

was faked by perpetrators of an elaborate hoax. The goal of the

scam wasn't clear, though Notre Dame said it used an investigative

firm to dig into the details after Te'o disclosed them three weeks

ago.

The hoax was disclosed hours after

Deadspin.com posted a lengthy story, saying it could find no record that

Kekua ever existed.

The story suggests a friend of Te'o may have carried out the hoax

and that the football player may have been in on it — a

stunning claim against a widely admired All-American who led the

most famed program in college football back to the championship

game for the first time since 1988.

"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," Te'o said Wednesday night in a

statement. "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. "

However, he stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had, though he did on

numerous occasions talk about how special the relationship was to him.

"To realize that I was the victim of what

was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is,

painful and humiliating,"

he said. "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."

Word of the hoax spread quickly and raised questions about whether the school somehow played a role in pushing the tale.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a news conference that Te'o told coaches on Dec. 26 that he had received

a call from Kekua's phone number while at an awards ceremony during the first week of December.

"When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same person he had talked to, who told him that she was,

in fact, not dead. Manti was very unnerved by that, as you might imagine," Swarbrick said.

Swarbrick said the school hired investigators and their report indicated those behind the hoax were in contact with each other,

discussing what they were doing.

The investigators "were able to discover

online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate

proof of this,

the joy they were taking," Swarbrick said. "The casualness among

themselves they were talking about what they accomplished."

Te'o asked the woman he thought was his girlfriend to converse via Skype, where he could see her online, but she always found

an excuse not to, Swarbrick said.

"As part of the hoax, several meetings were set up where Lennay never showed, including some in Hawaii," said Swarbrick, who

offered only vague details of the scheme to dupe his player, and others.

"We know, for example, that these

perpetrators didn't limit themselves to Manti in the targets," he said.

"There are a remarkable

number of characters involved. We don't know how many people they

represent. There are male and female characters, brothers,

cousins, mother, and we don't know if it's two people playing

multiple characters or multiple people. But, again, it goes

to the sophistication of this, that there are all these sort of

independent pieces that reinforce elements of the story all

the way through."

As for Te'o being gullible, Swarbrick said the linebacker was the "perfect mark."

"He was not a person who would have a second thought about offering his assistance and help in engaging fully," Swarbrick

said.

For Te'o, "the pain was real," Swarbrick said. "The grief was real. The affection was real. That's the nature of this sad,

cruel game."

Swarbrick said Notre Dame did not take the matter to the police, saying that the school left it up to Te'o and his family

to do so. He added that Notre Dame did not plan to release the findings of its investigation.

"We had no idea of motive, and that was

really significant to us. ... Was somebody trying to create an NCAA

violation at the

core of this? Was there somebody trying to impact the outcome of

football games by manipulating the emotions of a key player?

Was there an extortion request coming? When you match the lack of

sort of detail we lacked until we got some help investigating

it with the risk involved, it was clear to me until we knew more

we had to just to continue to work to try to gather the facts,"

Swarbrick said.

The Deadspin report changed all that.

Friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created Kekua. The website said Te'o and Tuiasosopo

knew each other. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Tuiasosopo by telephone were unsuccessful.

As for Kekua, Deadspin said she does not

have a death certificate. Stanford, where she reportedly went to school,

has no record

of anybody by that name, the website said. Deadspin said a record

search produced no obituary or funeral announcement. There

is no record of her birth in the news.

There are a few Twitter and Instagram

accounts registered to Lennay Kekua, but the website reported that

photographs identified

as Kekua online and in TV news reports are pictures from the

social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is

not named Lennay Kekua.

Te'o talked freely about their relationship after her supposed death and how much she meant to him.

In a story that appeared in The South Bend

Tribune on Oct. 12, Manti's father, Brian, recounted an anecdote about

how his

son and Kekua met after Notre Dame had played at Stanford in 2009.

Brian Te'o also told the newspaper that Kekua had visited

Hawaii and met with his son. Brian Te'o told the AP in an

interview in October that he and his wife had never met Manti's

girlfriend but they had hoped to at the Wake Forest game in

November. The father said he believed the relationship was just

beginning to get serious when she died.

The Tribune released a statement saying: "At

the Tribune, we are as stunned by these revelations as everyone else.

Indeed,

this season we reported the story of this fake girlfriend and her

death as details were given to us by Te'o, members of his

family and his coaches at Notre Dame."

The week before Notre Dame played Michigan

State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters when asked that

Te'o's grandmother

and a friend had died. He said Kekua had told Te'o not to miss a

game if she died. The linebacker turned in one of his best

performances of the season and his playing through heartache

became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular

season. He finished second in Heisman voting.

"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," Te'o said in his statement.

"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."

Te'o and the Irish lost the title game to Alabama, 42-14 on Jan. 7. He has graduated and was set to begin preparing for the

NFL combine and draft at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., this week.

"Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life," he said in his statement, "and I'm looking forward to putting this

painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL draft."