SOUTH BEND, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) - A Notre Dame linebacker's heartbreak that became a headline of the 2012 college football season has been uncovered a hoax.
Te'o inspired a nation, football fans and not, when he led his Fightin' Irish to a huge road victory at Michigan State days after losing his grandmother and girlfriend.
His grandmother, Annette Santiago, 72, died in the evening of Tues., Sept. 11. Six hours later, Lennay Kekua was reported dead of cancer.
Wednesday, the world learned the girlfriend never existed; her death never happened.
"Someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti," the University of Notre Dame said in a release. "And then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia."
Deadspin broke the story Wednesday. Beyond the confusion of the story and the shock of the details, the role Te'o had in the hoax has been a major question.
"Manti was the victim of the hoax, and will carry that for a while," Jack Swarbrick, Notre Dame vice president & athletic director, said at a press conference Wednesday night. "This was a very elaborate, sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand."
Swarbrick says Te'o learned of the hoax in a call at the ESPN Home Depot College Awards show on Dec. 6. from the woman who had pretended to be his girlfriend. The familiar voice with the familiar number saying she was in fact alive.
Te'o would keep that phone call a secret until Dec. 26, Swarbrick says; eventually notifying Irish coaching staff about the call. From there, the university launched an investigation, hiring a private security firm.
The investigation yielded a Cat Fish-like hoax, Swarbrick says, where people create fake dating profiles to scam unsuspecting potential mates.
"I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o says in a statement released Wednesday night. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online."
Swarbrick says Te'o planned to come out with the details of the hoax in the days to come; until Deadspin ran the story first.
Deadspin says it tracked down a young woman in Torrence, Calif., whose photos were used by a former high school classmate to perpetuate the hoax. Deadspin did not identify the woman, but did identify as the classmate as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a member of a famous Samoan family with long roots in college and professional football.
An identified friend of Tuiasosopo's says he is "80 percent sure" Te'o was in on the hoax.
Te'o also maintains he was a victim in this saga.
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," Te'o's statement read. "I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been."
"The single-most trusting human being I've ever met will never be able to trust in the same way again in his life," a choked-up Swarbrick said of Te'o. "That's an incredible tragedy."
Te'o won a slew of defensive awards at the end of the season, and looks to be a high pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
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