The jig is up.
Manti Te’o, the All-American linebacker and Heisman runner-up for Notre Dame, garnered off-the-field attention this season after the death of his girlfriend, an purported Stanford graduate named Lennay Kekua, to cancer and his grandmother, Annette Santiago. It was reported the deaths had been six hours apart.
Now Lennay Kekua was revealed by Deadspinto be fabricated, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference Wednesday night to address the story, which the school claims was an elaborate hoax.
“On the morning of December 26th, very early morning, Manti called his coaches to inform them that, while he was in attendance at the ESPN awards show in Orlando, he received a phone call from a number he recognized as having been that he associated with Lennay Kekua,” Swarbrick said. “When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same voice he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead.”
Swarbrick also went on to say that the relationship between Te’o and Kekua was “exclusively an online relationship.”
Reports in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and elsewhere told the story of Te’o putting up 12 tackles and an interception as he led the Fighting Irish in an emotional 20-3 upset of Michigan State after he learned of the deaths.
ESPN picked up on the supposed heartbreak and had Te’o appear on College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her battle with leukemia. He sent a letter to the parents of a child with cancer, discussing his experience with disease and grief.
Teo’s grandmother, Annette Santiago, died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration (SSA) records. But there is no record of the death of Lennay Kekua at that time or any other. There is also no report of the severe auto accident involving Lennay Kekua that Te’o also said had occurred back around February of last year.
According to the South Bend Tribune, the young couple’s first meeting supposedly came after Kekua–then a Stanford student–met Te’o after a football game at the Farm in 2009.
But the Stanford registrar’s office as well as University spokesperson Lisa Lapin say that there is no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. Deadspin reports that outside of a few pictures on social media sites, Kekua is “a ghost.”
In fact, the photographs identified as Kekua—mainly in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from a 22-year-old Californian’s social media accounts: her name is not Lennay Kekua.
According to Swarbrick, after Te’o came forward with his suspicions, Swarbrick arranged a meeting for Dec. 27, and said Te’o shared with him the details of the relationship. Notre Dame then hired an outside firm to investigate the case, receiving a final report with the investigation’s findings on Jan. 4.
“Our investigators through their work were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that is sort of the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking, the sort of casualness with which among themselves they were referring to what they had accomplished and what they had done,” Swarbrick said.
Te’o's personal tragedy is what many people believe boosted his Heisman campaign as well as the Irish’ return to stardom as they went 12-0 to open the season and made it to the BCS National Championship.
But Swarbrick also said that there were “several meetings” set up between Te’o and Kekua, including in Te’o's home state of Hawaii, but Kekua always backed out at the last moment for some reason or another.
“Every single thing about this was real to Manti,” said Swarbrick. “There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that’s the sad nature of this cruel game.”
Swarbrick said he was under the impression Te’o would address the situation further on Thursday.
Here is the statement Te’o has released, as well as Notre Dame University’s reaction.
Statement from Te’o: “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.”
From Notre Dame assistant vice president Dennis Brown: “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.”