Notre Dame’s Manti Te’o takes composite girlfriend concept to new level with tragic lost love who didn’t exist; University (today) says he was duped; Te’o calls it ‘sick joke’

Well, yes, that’s pretty much it. Deadspin.com has the (much longer but fascinating) account, but in short, University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, didn’t die tragically at 22 because she was never born in the first place. As writers Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey report:

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.

That so many people were touched by the inspirational story of triumph over tragic loss makes the revelation of the hoax even that much more shocking. Te’o did indeed lose his grandmother last September, but the death of his beloved “Lennay Kekua” of cancer months after a serious car accident was so sad it was reported by ESPN, Sports Illustrated and other media outlets, accompanied by a photo snagged from a stranger’s Facebook account.

It is real life. Once the shock wore off, though, the idea of someone creating a pretend girlfriend on the Internet didn’t seem all that far-fetched. Pathetic, but plausible.

It almost sounds like an “X Files” episode, and some wonder if the tragic story of Lennay Kekua had such legs because people wanted to believe.

Notre Dame’s spokesperson is having a busy day, too. The school’s Dennis Brown issued a statement on Facebook claiming that Te’o himself was the victim of a hoax.

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.

Sports Illustrated writer Pete Thamel is asking the questions that have everyone scratching their heads.

Um, what?

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Update: The plot thickens — how could it not? Deadspin posted its story just over an hour ago. Notre Dame responded that coaches were approached about the hoax Dec. 26. But was someone on to the story as early as Dec. 3?

That’s certainly suspicious. Two tweets from a user named “catfishhhhhhhh”?

You remember that movie, Erick. Universal Pictures said it was “a riveting story of love, deception and grace within a labyrinth of online intrigue.”

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Update:

Te’o has issued a statement, calling himself the victim of a sick joke.

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.

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Update:

Who knew that Lennay Kekua didn’t exist, and when did they know it? The Big Lead is reporting that ESPN has been sitting on the story for 10 days.

Hmm. Back in September, just days after Kekua’s “death,” Te’o asked her (via tweet) to say hello to other loved ones in the afterlife.

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