Notre Dame football standout Manti Te’o’s inspirational and tragic story of his girlfriend dying in a car crash in September is being called a hoax by the sports website Deadspin.com.
The bombshell report claims that his girlfriend, 22-year-old Lennay Marie Kekua, never existed – contrary to reports from major media outlets including the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated, CBS, the New York Times, and many others.
Te’o told Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel that Kekua had been diagnosed with Leukemia after a car crash in California left her in a coma. He said he would often call the hospital and have them put the phone next to her so he could fall asleep to the sound of her breathing.
During this time Te’o’s beloved grandmother died of cancer, and just days later, according to Te’o, so did Kekua. Instead of being utterly destroyed by the news, Te’o turned around and had a monster game for the Fighting Irish in an upset victory over Michigan State. After the game, he talked to ESPN’s College GameDay and described the inspirational letters she wrote to him will she was sick. Unfortunately, the inspirational tale of loss and triumph on the gridiron may have only been half true.
According to Deadspin:
“Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper.
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te’o.”
According to CBSSports.com, Te’o issued the following statement about the situation:
“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.”
On Wednesday, Notre Dame also issued the following statement on its Facebook page:
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.
University Spokesman | Assistant Vice President