Reporters track down a 23-year-old marketing executive whose pictures were used in the charade.
By Seth Abramovitch
Having trouble keeping track of all the characters in the Manti Te’o girlfriend conspiracy story? You’re not alone.
The story was unraveled by Deadspin, but it might as well have been the work of Homeland‘s Carrie Matheson after a sleepless night pacing alongside a bulletin board covered in grainy surveillance photographs and string.
At the center of it all is “Lennay Kekua,” the woman who courted the Notre Dame linebacker over Twitter, nabbed the Sports Illustrated coverboy as a boyfriend, then tragically died of leukemia on the eve of the big game — and who was later revealed to be nothing more than an elaborate online ruse.
Thought to be the woman identified in the Deadspin exposé as Reba, O’Meara is a former high school classmate of Ronaian Tuiasosopo, the suspected mastermind of the hoax. Tuiasosopo — who, to make matters weirder, used a manipulative “sob story” to score an audition on NBC’s The Voice — has allegedly confessed his guilt to a friend, ESPN reports.
But Don’t Forget What He Said On The Radio and TV:
The Notre Dame linebacker’s story played out in the pages of Sports Illustrated and the airwaves of ESPN over a period of months. Te’o girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was said to have died of cancer Sept. 11, 2012, within hours of the football star’s grandmother. After hearing of the deaths, the story went, Te’o led his team to a 20-3 upset victory over Michigan State, a game in which he recorded 12 tackles.
“They were with me,” Te’o said in an interview with ABC after the victory. “I couldn’t do without the support of my family and my girlfriend’s family. I’m so grateful for all the love and support that all the fans, both Michigan State and Notre Dame, and fans around the world for supporting me and my family and my girlfriend’s family. I miss them. I miss them. But I know that I’ll see them again one day.”
While the death of his grandmother Annette Santiago did occur as reported, an investigation by Deadspin revealed Kekua never existed. The relationship now is being described as a large-scale hoax.
Kekua, a 22-year-old Stanford student, was said to have been in a serious car accident six months before her death. According to a story published by Sports Illustrated, Te’o phoned her every night in the hospital and slept with her on the line. However, Deadspin found no records regarding her time at Stanford, her car accident or her death.
In another odd turn, Te’o did not attend his girlfriend’s funeral. He appeared on CBS This Morning to tell his story and explain why he did not attend his girlfriend’s funeral, telling the network she had urged him not to: