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Manti Te’o ‘Girlfriend’ Hoax

nd-teoNotre Dame said an inspirational story about football star Manti Te’o’s girlfriend dying of leukemia turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker.

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(CNN) — The man who claims to have been behind the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax told talk show host Phil McGraw that he was in love with the Notre Dame linebacker.

“Here we have a young man that fell deeply, romantically in love,” McGraw said on the “Today” show Wednesday, about Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

McGraw said he spent days with 22-year-old Tuiasosopo and his psychologist discussing what happened. The two-part interview is set to air Thursday and Friday on “The Dr. Phil Show.”

teo-hoaxerIn the interview, Tuiasosopo says he wanted to put an end to the hoax before faking the death of the made-up girlfriend Lennay Kekua.

“I wanted to end it because after everything I had gone through I wanted to move on with my life. Me, Ronaiah, I had to just start living and let this go,” he says.

When asked whether Te’o was involved in the hoax, McGraw said “absolutely, unequivocally no.”

A love story unravels

It’s the latest revelation in what began as a story of one of the nation’s best college football players leading his team to victory hours after learning his girlfriend died of leukemia, a story later dismissed as a hoax after it was revealed Kekua did not exist.

Sports website Deadspin broke the story this month that the girlfriend that Te’o, this year’s Heisman Trophy runner-up, had talked about and had claimed died in September of leukemia wasn’t real.

Te’o rose to national prominence leading Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season.

As he and his team excelled, Te’o told interviewers in September and October that his grandmother and girlfriend, whom he described as a 22-year-old Stanford University student, had died within hours of each other.

“I miss ‘em, but I know that I’ll see them again one day,” he said then.

An online relationship

In the weeks since news of the hoax broke, Te’o said he never met Kekua in person and that the relationship was carried out via e-mail and telephone.

Last week, Te’o told Katie Couric that Tuiasosopo called him the day the story broke to confess.

During that interview, Te’o doubted the voice he knew as Kekua belonged to that of a man.

Tuiasosopo has said he faked his voice to sound feminine. In the preview of the interview to air on “The Dr. Phil Show,” Tuiasosopo was repeatedly challenged by the talk show host to prove it.

“There are many times where Manti and Lennay had broken up. But something would bring them back together whether it was something going on in his life or Lennay’s life, in this case in my life,” Tuiasosopo said.

McGraw said he asked Tuiasosopo to define the nature of the relationship.

“I asked him straight up, ‘Was this a romantic relationship with you?’ And he says ‘Yes.’

“I said, ‘Are you then therefore gay?’ And he said, ‘When you put it that way, yes.’ And then he caught himself and said, ‘I’m confused.’”

Tuiasosopo’ s state of mind

Psychotherapist Robi Ludwig said the behavior described by Tuiasosopo to McGraw is very possible.

“We see this with Internet dating. Sometimes people lie,” Ludwig said on CNN’s “Erin Burnett Outfront.”

“It’s a place where they can experiment and where they can impersonate the other sex.”

Ludwig said it is possible that Tuiasosopo “actually did have a crush on Manti Te’o and was confused about his sexuality.”

“And the reason why he impersonated this woman was to see what it would feel like to be intimate with Manti Te’o to be loved by Manti Te’o,” she said.

“Who would say this if it weren’t true? I don’t get the sense that he’s a sociopath. I get the sense that he’s confused.”

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (Los Angeles Times) — The man accused of hoaxing Manti Te’o fell “deeply romantically in love” with the Notre Dame linebacker and said he was “confused” about his sexuality, TV’s Dr. Phil McGraw told the “Today” show in a clip that aired Wednesday.

The Antelope Valley man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, is allegedly the person behind the Te’o fake-girlfriend affair. He is planning to come clean and reveal the exact nature of his relationship with the football player and his role in the hoax during an interview with McGraw to be aired Thursday, his attorney, Milton Grimes, told The Times.

Grimes said Tuiasosopo was acting when he portrayed “Lennay Kekua,” the woman with whom Te’o said he had fallen in love with, but never met. Grimes said his client pretended to be the woman in phone calls with the football star, disguising his voice to sound like a woman, similar to what people do when they are role-playing or method acting.

“I don’t think it’s so unusual that a person could imitate the voice of a person of a different sex,” Grimes said.

In a short clip of that interview obtained by The Times, McGraw asks Tuiasosopo why he ended his relationship with Te’o.

“For many reasons,” Tuiasosopo said. “There were many times where Manti and Lennay had broken up before…. They would break up, and then something would bring them back together, whether it was something going on in his life or something going in Lennay’s life — in this case, in my life. I wanted to end it, because after everything I had gone through, I finally realized that I just had to move on with my life. I had to get me, Ronaiah. I had to start just living and just let this go.”

Grimes, the onetime lawyer for the late Rodney King, said Tuiasosopo “feels as though he needs therapy and part of that therapy is to … tell the truth.”

McGraw told “Today” that “Ronaiah had a number of life experiences that damaged this young man in some very serious ways,” and after speaking with Tuiasosopo, he believes that Te’o “absolutely, unequivocally” was not involved in the hoax.

Grimes insisted his client didn’t mean to hurt Te’o.

“He did not intend to harm him in any way,” Grimes said.

Te’o had spoken to reporters repeatedly about his supposed girlfriend and her battle with cancer, a story that captivated college football fans throughout fall 2012, when the Heisman Trophy runner-up helped his team finish out the regular season undefeated and helped get them to the national championship game.

Deadspin.com report published Jan. 16 first revealed that the girlfriend was fake, and identified Tuiasosopo as the man behind the hoax.

Grimes said Tuiasosopo had chosen Dr. Phil for his first public appearance because he felt that as a medical professional, Dr. Phil “might be inclined to have better insight [than a regular reporter] into what he’s going through … the particular condition,” Grimes said.

Diane O’Meara, a Southern California woman whose photos were apparently used in the fake girlfriend’s social media accounts, told The Times that Tuiasosopo repeatedly asked for photos and videos from her in the weeks before the hoax unraveled. She called his actions “kind of annoying,” but added, “as a compassionate person, I totally believed him.”

Grimes said he had warned his client, who is seeing a medical professional, that he could face legal consequences for admitting that he falsified his identity on the Internet. But Tuiasosopo insisted that going public was something he had to do in order to move on with his healing process.

“His point is that he wants to heal,” Grimes said. “He knows that if he doesn’t come out and tell the truth, it will interfere with him getting out of this place that he is in.”

“This is part of my public healing,” Grimes quoted Tuiasosopo as saying.

(CNN) — Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick compared the alleged hoax about a “girlfriend” that ensnared linebacker Manti Te’o with the documentary “Catfish.”

“Catfish” is no longer simply a river dweller, but rather a verb defined as “to pretend to be someone you’re not online by posting false information, such as someone else’s pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you,” according to the MTV show of the same name.

The show grew from the documentary in which filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman follow Ariel’s brother Nev and his budding online relationship with “Megan,” according to the website Iamrogue.com. The three started to suspect that something wasn’t quite right with Megan, and they set out to solve the mystery, capturing everything on film. The documentary was a hit at the 2010 Sundance film festival, Iamrogue says.

On the TV show, Nev Schulman, a photographer, guides others who suspect that their online loves are not what they seem.

“So someone will reach out to me and say, ‘I’m really into this guy, we’ve been talking online for months. He lives far away, we can’t afford to meet but we definitely want to, I think he is the one. Can you help?’” Nev Schulman said in an interview with Iamrogue.

“Will they find love or heartache?” the show’s introduction asks.

In one episode, “Tyler” wants to meet “Amanda” after months of corresponding via Facebook. Amanda always has an excuse for not meeting or talking, such as not having a cell phone or having a broken webcam. Suspicious, Tyler writes to Schulman.

Through a reverse photo search, Schulman discovers that Amanda’s pictures belong to someone else.

Schulman follows the trail and finds that “Amanda” is really Aaron, who is having trouble coming to terms with being gay.

“For many people the life that they lead on the Internet, which can be exciting, interesting, and can be filled with hopes and dreams that are perhaps outside of the actual range of their situation, is a big distraction and keeps them from living their real lives,” Schulman said in the Iamrogue interview.

(CNN) — Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o has again admitted to lying, marking at least the second time he has acknowledged knowingly spreading falsities in the saga of his fake dead girlfriend.

In an interview with ABC News’ Katie Couric, set to air on her syndicated show Thursday, the Heisman Trophy runner-up says he fibbed to the media — albeit briefly — after learning that the death of supposed girlfriend Lennay Kekua was a hoax.

Te’o said he believed Kekua, whom he thought was his girlfriend despite never meeting her face to face, had died of leukemia on September 12 after a car accident left her hospitalized. But he received a call December 6 from the woman he thought was Kekua, and she said she was alive, he has said.

teo-couricTe’o told ABC he felt he had no choice but to continue the ruse.

On December 8, ahead of the Heisman Trophy presentation, Te’o said he “lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer.” In a New York Post interview published more than three weeks later, Te’o said memories of his grandfather helped him cope with the losses of his grandmother and girlfriend, whom he’d previously said died on the same day.

“So when I lost my grandmother and Lennay, I thought of him. He was my strength,” Te’o told the Post, according to a December 30 article.

It was true that his grandmother had died, but Te’o conceded during the ABC interview that he wasn’t being honest about Kekua.

“Now I get a phone call on December 6, saying that she’s alive and then I’m going be put on national TV two days later. And to ask me about the same question. You know, what would you do?” Te’o said, according to clips of the interview published on ABC News’ website.

He further pleaded with Couric to empathize with his plight.

“Katie, put yourself in my situation. I, my whole world told me that she died on September 12. Everybody knew that. This girl, who I committed myself to, died on September 12,” Te’o said.

While he said he didn’t know whether the now-debunked storyline helped him place second in Heisman Trophy voting, he insisted his emotions surrounding Kekua’s loss were authentic.

“What I went through was real. You know, the feelings, the pain, the sorrow — that was all real, and that’s something that I can’t fake,” he said.

Couric said she believes Te’o sincerely thought he was having a relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua. Couric said she heard voice mail messages on Te’o’s phone, allegedly from Kekua, and even saw his phone bill.

“There were multiple calls to this number, where he would stay on the phone for hours,” Couric told ABC’s “World News with Diane Sawyer” on Wednesday.

Te’o denied reveling in the attention he received for playing so outstandingly on the gridiron after suffering such devastating personal losses.

“I think, for me, the only thing that I basked in was that I had an impact on people; that people turned to me for inspiration. And I think that was the only thing I focused on,” the Hawaii-born Mormon said. “My story, I felt, was a guy who in times of hardship and in times of trial, held strong to his faith, held strong to his family, and I felt that was my story.”

Te’o’s parents, Brian and Ottilia Te’o, were on hand for the interview.

Couric said she believes they were as stunned as their son when they found out Kekua didn’t exist. Te’o’s mother talked to the woman many times on the phone, and his father even texted biblical passages to the woman and discussed them with her, Couric said.

Te’o’s father was quoted in an October article in the South Bend Tribune, saying his son and Kekua had met at a football game in Palo Alto, California, and exchanged numbers. Their love affair ensued from there, the paper reported.

Last week, Te’o said, however, that he had lied to his dad because he was embarrassed to admit he was in love with a woman he’d never laid eyes on.

“I knew that — I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” he told ESPN. “And that alone, people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”

Asked his response to those who say his son is a liar who “manipulated the truth, really for personal gain,” Te’o’s father broke into tears.

“People can speculate about what they think he is. I’ve known him 21 years of his life, and he’s not a liar. He’s a kid,” Te’o’s father told Couric.

Questions have also been raised about Te’o telling Sports Illustrated in October that Kekua had attended one of his games, when he issued a statement last week saying he’d never met her.

Because ABC News has made public only snippets of the interview, it’s not clear which parts of the hoax Te’o will address, but the Notre Dame standout has said he’s sure he’ll be vindicated.

“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” Te’o told ESPN last week. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”

Nine days after the Alabama Crimson Tide dismantled the Fighting Irish in the college football national championship, Deadspin broke the story that Kekua didn’t exist. The oft-irreverent sports news website has reported that a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is involved in the scam and that he created a fake Lennay Kekua Twitter account.

Deadspin’s Timothy Burke, co-author of the story, said friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo’s said he was “doing the Lennay Kekua fake online profile for several years and that he’s caught other people in his trap, but that they caught on way earlier than Manti Te’o did.”

Diane O’Meara, whose photo was used for the fake account, told NBC’s “Today” show that she’d never spoken to Te’o but that Tuiasosopo called her to apologize.

“Ronaiah has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologized, but I don’t think there’s anything you could say to me that would fix this,” she said.

Te’o, likewise, told ESPN that Tuiasosopo tweeted him after the Deadspin story broke, saying he was behind the hoax. He also apologized, Te’o said.

“Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing,” Te’o said, according to ESPN.

An anonymous Notre Dame source told CNN the university’s investigation yielded the same conclusion — that two men and a woman perpetrated the hoax.

At least one of Tuiasosopo’s relatives has defended him, though. His uncle told CNN, “It definitely takes two to tango,” and, “This is not just a matter of blaming it all on Ronaiah.” Tuiasosopo’s father had no comment.

Deadspin author Burke isn’t buying the notion that Te’o is innocent in this mess and emphasizes that Te’o and Tuiasosopo knew each other.

“How dense would Manti Te’o have to be to not realize this was his friend who was behind the account the entire time?” he asked. “I don’t believe Manti Te’o could be that dumb.”

LANCASTER, Calif. (KTLA) — The woman whose image was used in the fake girlfriend hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o is speaking out for the first time.

Diane O’Meara, a 23-year-old momeara-picarketing executive from Lancaster, says that the was a victim, too — a victim of identity theft.

O’Meara had never heard of Te’o until last week.

She did go to high school in the Antelope Valley with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man believed to be behind the elaborate hoax.

“It’s very bizarre, and it’s a very twisted and confusing scenario,” O’Meara told NBC’s Miguel Almaguer in a segment that aired on the “Today” show Tuesday.

“I’ve never met Manti Te’o in my entire life. I’ve never spoken with him. I’ve never exchanged words, tweets.”

Last week, Deadspin.com broke the story that Teo’s girlfriend, who supposedly died within hours of his grandmother back in September, never actually existed.

Tuiasosopo has yet to speak publicly about the allegations, but O’Meara said he has apologized to her.

“The past five years, he has literally been stalking my Facebook and stealing my photos,” O’Meara said on “Today.”

“Ronny has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologized. But I don’t think there’s anything he could say to me that would fix this.”

(CNN) — Manti Te’o — one of the best defenders this season in college football — defended himself in an ESPN interview, saying there was no way he was part of a hoax involving a deceased girlfriend.

“I wasn’t faking it,” Te’o told ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap in an off-camera interview highlighted on the network Friday night. “I wasn’t part of this.”

For days, the linebacker has been the subject of ridicule after reports surfaced that the girlfriend he’d said died this fall of leukemia never existed.

Te’o rose to national prominence by leading Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish to an undefeated regular season, amassing double-digit tackle games and becoming the face of one of the best defenses in the nation.

As he and his team excelled, Te’o told interviewers in September and October that his grandmother and girlfriend — whom he described as a 22-year-old Stanford University student — had died within hours of each other.

The twin losses inspired him to honor them with sterling play on the field, Te’o said. He led his team to a 20-3 routing of Michigan State after he heard the news.

“I miss ‘em, but I know that I’ll see them again one day,” he told ESPN.

He was second in the Heisman Trophy race and led his team to the championship game, losing to Alabama.

The fairy tale story ended Wednesday when sports website Deadspin published a piece dismissing as a hoax the existence of Te’o’s girlfriend and suggesting he was complicit.

Te’o released a statement Wednesday saying he was a victim of a hoax, but Friday night was the first time he publicly addressed the issue.

“When (people) hear the facts, they’ll know,” Te’o told ESPN. “They’ll know that there is no way that I could be part of this.”

After a 2½-hour interview, veteran sports reporter Schaap said Te’o’s story sounded convincing.

“He made a very convincing witness to his defense,” Schapp said on ESPN. “He answered all my questions pretty convincingly. If he is making up his side of the story, he is a very convincing actor.”

The twisted tale of Te’o and the mystery woman named Lennay Kekua has left many with questions.

Te’o sought to answer many of them Friday night.

Who created the hoax?

Te’o told Schaap that the hoax was created by a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and that Te’o had no role in creating the hoax.

He said Tuiasosopo contacted him Wednesday via Twitter and explained that he created the hoax and he apologized, Schaap said.

Tuiasosopo told Te’o he created the hoax along with another man and a woman, ESPN reported. CNN has not seen the tweets Te’o allegedly got from Tuiasosopo.

“Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing,” Te’o said, according to ESPN.

CNN went to the California home of Tuiasosopo, where Titus Tuiasosopo, Ronaiah’s father, declined to comment.

“But just wait, (the truth) will all come out,” he said. “God knows our character. People are going to say what people are going to say.”

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was named in the Deadspin article.

Notre Dame’s investigation into the matter confirmed that two men and a woman, including Tuiasosopo, were behind the hoax, a source with knowledge of the matter told CNN.

The source requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

A woman pretending to be Kekua called Te’o last month, claiming she had faked her death last fall because she was afraid of drug dealers, the source said.

Following that December 6 conversation, Te’o went to his coaches with the story, which spurred Notre Dame to hire outside investigators to look into it. T

he investigation began the day after Christmas, and the results were presented January 4, days before the national championship game that Te’o’s team lost.

Why did relatives say they had met her?

In September and October, when the story of Te’o and his girlfriend received a lot of press attention, several stories appeared about how they met.

One in October by Indiana’s South Bend Tribune, the newspaper of Notre Dame’s hometown, said the couple met at a football game in Palo Alto, California, in 2009.

Te’o’s father was quoted in the article saying they exchanged phone numbers and a love affair began.

On Friday, Te’o said he lied to his father about meeting Kekua because he was embarrassed to tell his family he was in love with a woman he’d never met.

“I knew that — I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn’t meet,” he told ESPN. “And that alone, people find out that this girl who died I was so invested in, and I didn’t meet her as well.”

The lie he told his father led his family to tell reporters that Te’o had met his girlfriend, he told ESPN.

The calls from the woman continued after December 6, but Te’o did not answer, Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick told reporters this week.

At that point, Te’o confided in his parents and at least two friends and a girlfriend he had at the time about the calls, the source with knowledge of the matter told CNN. He and the “real” girlfriend have since ended that relationship.

The Heisman Trophy was awarded December 8, and Te’o continued to make comments about losing his girlfriend.

In the ESPN interview, Te’o said he wasn’t fully convinced it was a hoax until Wednesday, Schaap said.

Woman says her picture was part of hoax, though she didn’t know Te’o

One woman whose photos were part of the hoax says that she was exploited herself.

Donna Te’i told CNN earlier this week that she’d never talked to Te’o, nor did she have any involvement in the online plot involving the Notre Dame player and the woman he believed was his girlfriend.

But the 26-year-old woman is part of the story. She was identified in pictures linked to a Twitter account using the name uilanirae, which has since been taken down, as the sister of the apparently nonexistent girlfriend known as Lennay Kekua, according to Deadspin.

Donna Te’i acknowledged she was portrayed in the online images as Kekua’s sister, but not of her own accord. Her father, Luteru Lou Te’i — who spoke to CNN on Saturday, as his daughter was not at home — said these pictures were illicitly taken from the Facebook page of another of his daughters.

Donna Te’i herself met Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — the Samoan-American, like her, who Mantei Te’o said created the hoax — years ago through an acquaintance, and they came into contact again following the August death of her boyfriend, former University of Southern California football standout Fred Matua.

Mutua was eulogized by Ronaiah’s father, the Rev. Titus Tuiasosopo, according to Luteru Lou Te’i, who lives with his daughter in Carson, California.

At some point, pictures of Donna Te’i became part of the scheme. Luteru Lou Te’i, 51, said his daughter believes Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was responsible, since he called her later to apologize for using her image.

“I … don’t know what his motive was, but (Tuiasosopo) admitted to her that he did it,” said Luteru Lou Te’i, noting this conversation happened “way before the story broke.”

Donna Te’i has been “distraught” since Deadspin first ran with the story, according to her father.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and his family have not responded to CNN requests for comment on this and other allegations tied to the hoax.

Football great Manti Te’o has at last broken his silence over the hoax involving his so-called girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. Doug Kolk reports.

LOS ANGELES — Manti Te’o isn’t talking, but many of the people who know him are.

The woman whose picture was used to represent this make-believe girlfriend — is identified as 23 year old Diane O”Meara of Torrance.

She’s reportedly has nothing to do with the hoax, but was former high school classmate of Ronaiah  Tuiasosopo — a friend of Teo’s and the alleged mastermind behind the elaborate story of deception.

In an interview with ESPN — a woman who didn’t want to be identified says Tuiasosopo — admitted to a church friend he’d fooled Te’o with the story of his dying girlfriend Lennay Kekua and it wasn’t the first such hoax he’d attempted.

“He told me that Manti was not involved at all, He was a victim. The girl was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie.”

The football star’s uncle told the New York Post, Tuiasosopo “needs to be prosecuted.”

Tuiasosopo — who lives here in Palmdale has yet to publicly comment on the scandal that tugged at the heartstrings of fans who listened over the years as Te’o talked about his girlfriends death from Leukemia — just 6 hours after his grandmother died last September.

Te’o reportedly learned the truth in early December — yet still spoke of Kekua and her story — at an awards dinner later that month. He has since admitted he got duped.

Notre Dame stands behind him.  The athletic director calling him an innocent victim of extreme cruelty.

There plenty of skeptics who know there are plenty of holes in this story — Te’o has gone quiet — but Notre Dame expects him to speak publicly in the next few days — and people are waiting to hear what he has to say.

–Sara Welch

(CNN) — In a little more than three months, Manti Te’o probably will be drafted by an NFL team and sign a multimillion dollar deal.

Before teams sink that much money into players, they have questions.

With the revelation that the football feel-good story of the year centered on the Notre Dame linebacker’s love for a woman who never existed, many people have questions for Te’o — a lot of questions.

And as each question in the saga gets answered — none publicly by Te’o — it seems another one, or two, or three, crop up.

mantiFor instance, why did Te’o tell reporters before the Heisman Trophy presentation on December 8 that he “lost both my grandparents and my girlfriend to cancer,” when two days earlier the woman he thought was dead called him on his cellphone?

Why did he tell a Sports Illustrated reporter in October that Kekua came to one of his games then issue a statement this week that he never met her?

Who is now behind the one of the Twitter accounts associated with Lennay Kekua, a woman who apparently never lived, let alone died, in September before Te’o, who called her his girlfriend, played one of the biggest games of the young season?

A tweet Thursday purportedly from the fictional girlfriend promised she would have a big announcement that would help sort out details of the story, but the tweet was merely a joke about Te’o.

Two other tweets on the page were retweets from the verified account of Te’o.

“@LennayKay I miss you!” a November 6 tweet from Te’o said.

On September 12, Te’o tweeted “@LennayKay you will always be with me wherever I go!”

It was unclear Thursday whether the person Te’o tweeted to in September used it again after reports broke of a hoax or whether someone created a new account with the same user name.

The airing of the bizarre story began Wednesday, when sports website Deadspin published a piece dismissing as a hoax the existence of Te’o’s girlfriend — the one who he said died around the same time as his grandmother while his team marched toward the BCS National Championship Game.

Then Wednesday, the university held a news conference saying Te’o was the victim of a “elaborate hoax.” And Te’o, the Heisman Trophy runner-up, released a statement saying he was embarrassed that he was the victim of a “sick joke.”

The bizarre developments left many wondering if they, instead of Te’o, were led on.

“Te’o’s story that he is completely innocent in this does not really ring true to us,” Timothy Burke, co-author of the Deadspin article, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night.

Pete Thamel, the Sports Illustrated writer who published a transcript of his interview with Te’o, said he thinks the star linebacker was duped.

“If he was acting he deserves an Oscar nomination,” Thamel said. “The depth and the detail of this scam is mindboggling, but I do think Te’o … he caught the wave of this story, maybe exaggerated the depths of their relationship a little. But at the end of the day, we need to hear from Manti Te’o.”

The hoax

The story of the girlfriend came to light in September as Notre Dame continued its improbable undefeated season, and Te’o, a relentless tackler, was beginning to emerge as a front-runner for the prestigous Heisman Trophy.

He led the Fighting Irish, amassing double-digit tackle games and becoming the face of one of the best defenses in the nation.

In September and October, Te’o told interviewers that his girlfriend and grandmother had died within hours of each other. The girlfriend, a 22-year-old Stanford University student, died of leukemia, he said.

The twin losses inspired him to honor them with sterling play on the field, Te’o said. He led his team to a 20-3 routing of Michigan State after he heard the news.

“I miss ‘em, but I know that I’ll see them again one day,” he told ESPN.

It was indeed a gripping interest story of determination. And the media ran with it.

No one bothered to seek out Kekua’s family until Deadspin, acting on an anonymous e-mail received last week, started poking around.

“What do you do when you first want to know something? You Google it, right?” Burke said on CNN. “And Google searches for ‘Lennay Kekua’ only showed up articles about her dying, and inspiring Manti Te’o.

“There’s no evidence of her existing in any way, other than, you know, after she had allegedly died. And we thought that was a little weird.”

Te’o’s grandmother died in September, Deadspin said.

But there was no Social Security Administration record of Kekua’s death. The Birth and Death Registration Office in Orange County, California, told CNN it had no record of Kekua, nor does the county coroner.

Deadspin called mortuaries and funeral homes in Carson, California, where Kekua was reportedly buried — but came up empty.

The website sought out the person whose picture had been presented as that of Kekua and tracked her down.

She was alive, didn’t have leukemia and had never met Te’o.

“That sort of opened everything up,” Burke said.

The revelation prompted the Notre Dame athletics director to call a news conference Wednesday. There was no way for Te’o to know the relationship was a hoax because it had been conducted strictly online and on the phone, said director Jack Swarbrick.

The pair had set up several meetings, including in Hawaii, where Te’o grew up — but Kekua never showed, Swarbrick said.

The university said it did not know how many people were in on the ruse.

According to Swarbrick, Te’o received a call from a woman claiming to be his girlfriend on December 6, telling him she was not dead. Those calls continued, but Te’o did not answer, he said.

The Heisman Trophy was awarded two days later, and Te’o made comments about losing relatives to cancer before he finished second in the award voting to quarterback Johnny Manziel of Texas A & M.

The Stanford University registrar’s office told CNN that it has never had a student registered in Kekua’s name or using an alternate spelling.

“Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed,” Deadspin contends. “There was no Lennay Kekua.”

Her ‘soulful eyes’

So, how did the two fall in love?

According to the South Bend Tribune in Indiana — the newspaper of Notre Dame’s hometown, the two met — yes, met — after a football game in Palo Alto, California, in 2009.

“Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te’o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes,” the paper gushed. “They could have just as easily brushed past each other and into separate sunsets. Te’o had plenty to preoccupy himself that November weekend in Palo Alto, Calif., back in 2009.”

The article went on to say: “Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.”

Te’o’s father, Brian, was quoted in the article: “They started out as just friends. 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. But within the last year, they became a couple.”

The newspaper said Wednesday it based Teo’s story on information from the linebacker, his family members and coaches — and moved the story to its archives.

But as Thamel reported Thursday, Te’o said they met through a cousin.

“The only time he didn’t speak with confidence was when I asked how they met,” he wrote. I didn’t press him, as it was clearly something he didn’t want to share. I suspected they may have met online, understood he wouldn’t have wanted that public and moved on.”

Media reports indicate the parents never met Kekua.

Te’o tried to clear things up with a statement Wednesday saying he “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,” he said in the statement.

“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating,” the statement continued. “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 didn’t meet with the media Thursday as he prepared for an all-star game in Florida.

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