Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o led his team to the BCS championship game and was runner-up for the Heisman Trophy in 2012. Te'o's reputation and fan following soared after a story was made public that his reported girlfriend, named Lennay Kekua, passed away from leukemia in September 2012, just six hours after his grandmother Annette Santiago died. In spite of adversity, Te'o, 21, went on to have an incredible season, becoming one of the most inspirational stories in college football. Te'o, who is of Samoan descent and grew up in Hawaii, graduated from Notre Dame in December and is expected to be a top pick in the 2013 NFL draft.
On Wednesday, Jan. 17, a story by the sports site Deadspin alleged that Manti Te'o's girlfriend never existed.
Te'o and Notre Dame have insisted that the linebacker was duped, a victim of "catfishing."
Lennay Kekua was reportedly the girlfriend of Manti Te'o, passing away from leukemia in September 2012. According to Te'o's father, Brian, the couple "met" after Stanford's 45-38 victory over Notre Dame in November 2009. Brian Te'o told the South Bend Tribune that Kekua "was gifted in music, multi-lingual, had dreams grounded in reality and the talent to catch up to them." Reportedly a Stanford student, Kekua and Te'o talked on the phone nightly and had an active online relationship through social media because they lived in different cities.
In a press conference Wednesday evening at Notre Dame, Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said Te'o had never met Kekua in person. "What I will tell you, this was exclusively an online relationship." The university says Te'o recieved a phone call on Dec. 6 from a number he associated with Kekua and a voice he recognized as hers told him she was not dead.
Tuiasosopo is a 22-year-old of Samoan descent who lives in Antelope Valley, Calif. The relationship between Tuiasosopo and Manti Te'o is unclear, but they have been linked by social media interactions and it's believed they know each other, according to the sports website Deadspin. The site, which revealed the hoax, states that Tuiasosopo asked a woman he knew for her photo and that photo became the face of Kekua's Twitter account. Several of Tuiasosopo's relatives have played in the NFL. Tuiasosopo has reportedly become involved in his father's church. He serves as the band leader at the Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley.
Brian Te'o, the father of Manti Te'o, has played a major role in his son's football success and decision to go pro. In a South Bend Tribune article published in October 2012, Brian Te'o spoke openly about the relationship between his son and Lennay Kekua, even though he had never met Kekua. "They started out as just friends. Every once in a while she would travel to Hawaii," Brian Te'o told the paper. "Last year, they became a couple. And we came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law. Sadly, it won't happen now."
As many as 40 members of the Te'o family traveled to South Bend, Ind., in mid-November for a football game where they had planned to meet Kekua and spend time with her, but she had reportedly passed away two months earlier. Brian and Ottilia Te'o live in Hawaii and have six children.
Jack Swarbrick is the Notre Dame athletic director who says coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of a hoax. Swarbrick says the university hired an investigative firm that submitted a report on the incident. In a Wednesday evening press conference, Swarbrick says he believes Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose death was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax. The athletic director said, "Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota." Showing his support, Swarbrick ended the conference by saying that "the same great student and athlete is the same guy tonight; unchanged in anyway, except the embarrassment of having been a victim."
Manti Te'o grandmother Annette Santiago passed away in September 2012 at the age of 72. Santiago had suffered from a long illness in Hawaii. Just six hours after Te'o learned that his grandmother had died, Te'o was told that Kekua had lost her battle with leukemia. A few days later after Notre Dame's victory against Michigan State, Te'o spoke to the press about his double loss. "I appreciate all the love and support that everybody's given my family and my girlfriend's family."
A fullback for the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, Mauia claims to have met Lennay Kekua in June 2011 while participating in charity work in American Samoa. Mauia told ESPN that he grew close to Kekua, describing her as athletic, tall, beautiful and Polynesian, and said she looked like a model. Mauia believes he met Kekua before Manti Te'o was in the picture. Born in American Samoa and attending college at the University of Hawaii, Mauia was drafted in the sixth round of the 2007 NFL draft.
A former University of Washington and NFL quarterback, Tuiasosopo is the cousin of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Marques told ESPN that he's never met or heard of Lennay Kekua. The Tuiasosopo family has a long line of connections to the NFL and many of Marques and Ronaiah's relatives are former players. The family is of American Samoan decent.
The raven-haired, 23-year-old Los Angeles marketing coordinator and graduate of California State University, Long Beach, was identified as the face of Manti Te'o's fake "girlfriend," Lennay Kekua. Her lawyer told "Inside Edition" that she was also a victim, that she doesn't know Te'o but that photos of her were stolen and used to create the illusion of Te'o's girlfriend, who "died" of leukemia in September 2012. O'Meara, herself, told "Inside Edition," "I'm not making any comment."
UCLA football player Dalton Hilliard, 22, became close friends with Manti Te'o while they attended Punahou High School together in Honolulu. In an interview with Sports Illustrated in September 2012 for a story on Te'o, Hilliard said he had never met Kekua, but received text messages and tweets from her before his games. "It was a pleasure for me to know her. The fact she made my best friend such a happy man, it's something that made me a happy man as well," he said.
A Polynesian beauty queen who tells ABC News that she was also duped into believing Lennay Kekua was a real person. Tolutau says Kekua reached out to her about entering Polynesian beauty pageants and the two were scheduled to meet in 2009, but Lennay failed to appear. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo on the other hand, showed up at the meeting and Tolutau described him as forgettibale as Lennay was memorable. Tolutau was pranked for five years and called it a "sick joke that went way too far." Tolutau believes that Te'o was one of four, possibly five people who were duped into believing that Lennay Kekua was a real person. In regards to Tuiasosopo, Tolutau says he seemed to fish for prominent people in their community, luring them in with her looks and hooking some of them.
|Alexandra Del Pilar|
A 21-year-old St. Mary's College Student, Del Pilar started dating Manti Te'o in November 2012, after the "death" of Lennay Kekua. The couple dated for a few months, but sources have confirmed to ABC News that they recently broke up. Del Pilar reportedly offered Te'o support following the passing of his grandmother in Septmeber 2012. One of Del Pilar's closest friends is from Hawaii and reportedly went to high school with Te'o. Del Pilar also traveld to Miami to cheer on Te'o and the fighting Irish in the BCS National Championship game.