It’s been two days since Deadspin published a report stating that Lennay Kekua, the girlfriend of Notre Dame All-American Manti Te’o – the same girlfriend who supposedly passed away last September following a battle with leukemia — was a hoax.
There have been a plethora of questions (and few answers) arising from this bizarre story, but the primary one has been whether Te’o was the victim of the hoax, as Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick stated in a press conference Wednesday night, or in on the hoax. Or, perhaps the truth is somewhere in between.
Either way, a confession of some kind appears to be the only way to begin to set this story straight. Turns out, there may be one.
The man believed to be behind the hoax, behind the identity of Kekua, is 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. On Friday, a woman identifying herself only as a friend of Tuiasosopo told ESPN’s Shelley Smith on “Outside the Lines” that Tuiasosopo confessed in December to duping Te’o. Not only that, but the woman stated Tuiasosopo admitted that Te’o was not his first target.
“He (Ronaiah) told me that Manti was not involved at all, he was a victim. … The girlfriend was a lie, the accident was a lie, the leukemia was a lie,” said the woman. “He was crying, he was literally crying, he’s like ‘I know, I know what I have to do.’
“It’s not only Manti, but he was telling me that it’s a lot of other people they had done this to.”
Two other people — 28-year-old J.R. Vaosa of Torrance, Calif., and 21-year-old Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, 21, of Whittier, Calif. — also told Smith on “OTL” that they had a cousin who fell victim to a similar online hoax, allegedly orchestrated by Tuiasosopo using Kekua’s identity, beginning in 2008.
“When Lennay said she was gonna be at this park one day, we’d go to the park and Ronaiah pops up and then we go to the gym in Orange County where the kids have volleyball tournaments, Ronaiah’s there,” Vaosa said.
Finally, the family convinced Vaosa’s cousin that something wasn’t right and he needed to cut things off not only with Kekua, but Tuiasosopo, whom they were convinced was the real Kekua, Tuioti-Mariner said.
According to the ESPN report, the woman whose photos were portrayed as Kekua has been identified by “Inside Edition” as Diane O’Meara. O’Meara’s attorney told “Inside Edition” that his client’s photos were stolen and used in the hoax. Deadspin reported that the woman whose photos were used was a former classmate of Tuiasosopo.
Vaosa and Tuioti-Mariner also appear to be the same individuals engaging with one another over the past month or so via Twitter regarding the hoax. Additionally, all three testimonies on “OTL” seem to line up with this paragraph from the Deadspin story:
… We spoke with friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo who asserted that Ronaiah was the man behind Lennay. He created Lennay in 2008, one source said, and Te’o wasn’t the first person to have an online “relationship” with her. One mark—who had been “introduced” to Lennay by Tuiasosopo—lasted about a month before family members grew suspicious that Lennay could never be found on the telephone, and that wherever one expected Lennay to be, Ronaiah was there instead. Two sources discounted Ronaiah’s stunt as a prank that only metastasized because of Te’o’s rise to national celebrity this past season.
Deadspin reports that “Te’o and Tuiasosopo definitely know each other,” but exactly how isn’t clear. A supposed friend of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin that he was “’80 percent sure’ that Manti Te’o was ‘in on it,’ and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind.”
However, Te’o’s uncle, Alema Te’o, appeared on The Zone Sports Network Thursday night to speak about the story. During the interview, he called Tuiasosopo a “liar” and noted during one particular interaction that Tuiasosopo began promoting a foundation to raise money for leukemia victims.
Te’o has not spoken publicly about the hoax outside of a statement issued on Wednesday after the Deadspin story was published and there doesn’t appear to be any sign that he plans to do so in the foreseeable future. The questions Te’o will be asked once he does speak — be it with reporters or representatives from NFL clubs at the upcoming combine — will surely be numerous with explicit inquiries about the timeline of his supposed relationship with Kekua.
Updated 5:30 p.m. ET: The Honolulu Star-Advertiser adds a disturbing and bizarre twist on the Te’o story, reporting that Kekua told Te’o she had to fake her own death to avoid drug dealers. Te’o spoke over the phone with a person he believed to be Kekua on Dec. 6, nearly three months after she reportedly died.