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Manti Te’o’s dead girlfriend Lennay Kekua is a hoax

Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o’s girlfriend Lennay Kekua is revealed to be a hoax. Kekua had allegedly attended Stanford.

The jig is up.

Manti Te’o, the All-American linebacker and Heisman runner-up for Notre Dame, garnered off-the-field attention this season after the death of his girlfriend, an purported Stanford graduate named Lennay Kekua, to cancer and his grandmother, Annette Santiago. It was reported the deaths had been six hours apart.

Now Lennay Kekua was revealed by Deadspinto be fabricated, and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held a press conference Wednesday night to address the story, which the school claims was an elaborate hoax.

“On the morning of December 26th, very early morning, Manti called his coaches to inform them that, while he was in attendance at the ESPN awards show in Orlando, he received a phone call from a number he recognized as having been that he associated with Lennay Kekua,” Swarbrick said. “When he answered it, it was a person whose voice sounded like the same voice he had talked to, who told him that she was, in fact, not dead.”

Swarbrick also went on to say that the relationship between Te’o and Kekua was “exclusively an online relationship.”

Reports in Sports Illustrated, The New York Times and elsewhere told the story of  Te’o putting up 12 tackles and an interception as he led the Fighting Irish in an emotional 20-3 upset of Michigan State after he learned of the deaths.

ESPN picked up on the supposed heartbreak and had Te’o appear on College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her battle with leukemia. He sent a letter to the parents of a child with cancer, discussing his experience with disease and grief.

Teo’s grandmother, Annette Santiago, died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration (SSA) records. But there is no record of the death of Lennay Kekua at that time or any other. There is also no report of the severe auto accident involving Lennay Kekua that Te’o also said had occurred back around February of last year.

According to the South Bend Tribune, the young couple’s first meeting supposedly came after Kekua–then a Stanford student–met Te’o after a football game at the Farm in 2009.

But the Stanford registrar’s office as well as University spokesperson Lisa Lapin say that there is no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. Deadspin reports that outside of a few pictures on social media sites, Kekua is “a ghost.”

In fact, the photographs identified as Kekua—mainly in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from a 22-year-old Californian’s social media accounts: her name is not Lennay Kekua.

According to Swarbrick, after Te’o came forward with his suspicions, Swarbrick arranged a meeting for Dec. 27, and said Te’o shared with him the details of the relationship. Notre Dame then hired an outside firm to investigate the case, receiving a final report with the investigation’s findings on Jan. 4.

“Our investigators through their work were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that is sort of the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking, the sort of casualness with which among themselves they were referring to what they had accomplished and what they had done,” Swarbrick said.

Te’o’s personal tragedy is what many people believe boosted his Heisman campaign as well as the Irish’ return to stardom as they went 12-0 to open the season and made it to the BCS National Championship.

But Swarbrick also said that there were “several meetings” set up between Te’o and Kekua, including in Te’o’s home state of Hawaii, but Kekua always backed out at the last moment for some reason or another.

“Every single thing about this was real to Manti,” said Swarbrick. “There was no suspicion. The grief was real, the affection was real, and that’s the sad nature of this cruel game.”

Swarbrick said he was under the impression Te’o would address the situation further on Thursday.

Here is the statement Te’o has released, as well as Notre Dame University’s reaction.

Statement from Te’o: “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.”

From Notre Dame assistant vice president Dennis Brown: “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.”

About Miles Bennett-Smith

Miles Bennett-Smith is Chief Operating Officer at The Daily. An avid sports fan from Penryn, Calif., Miles graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies. He has previously served as the Editor in Chief and President at The Daily. He has also worked as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Email him at eic@stanforddaily.com
  • dont get it

    so confused

  • #geniusprank

    HA

  • Bob

    This is a terribly written article…confused me so much

  • baycommuter

    Was Lennay Kekua the roommate of Asia Kim?

  • c n

    “The original story was as touching as it was incredible.” Yet never reported by the Stanford Daily.

    Stanford Daily, failing at breaking news on the farm.

  • sup

    basically…

    Te’o, a Notre Dame football player and Heisman finalist, had an inspiring season, where he rose through the adversity of his grandmother and girlfriend dying on the same day (Sept 11, 2012). It was a huge news story at the time (and for the rest of the college football season), and helped push Te’o into the national spotlight. The only problem is that his girlfriend never existed in the first place. It was a hoax, revealed by the sports blog deadspin today.

    Te’o says he is a victim of the hoax, but if you read the interviews it doesn’t add up. The girlfriend was supposedly a Stanford student, and met Te’o in 2009, after a Notre Dame – Stanford football game. They also supposedly spent time together in Hawaii, and Te’o called her every night while she was supposedly suffering from leukemia.

  • azia kim’s classmate

    @ c n: failing to break a story that was fake. yup, the daily’s bad.

  • 80s student

    Back in the day, “guys” like Jon Weisman, Susan Slusser, Mark Zeigler, Mark Rogowsky, John Lis, Evan Tuchinsky, Chris Myers — real journalists–never would have let this one slip by; even in the pre-internet age they would have grabbed a froshbook. You guys blew it plain and simple. You should have fessed up to that point in your story.

  • B.S. Calling

    So no one at Stanford, say in the journalism department, ever thought to verify this person, in a national story, attended the school they go to? Journalism…yeah…

  • c n

    There’s a duty to report that it was fake, especially when news outlets and the public believed it. That’s the underlying point of reporting a hoax. This story spiraled out of control and it was completely fabricated. I’m glad you are concillatory and agree with me.

  • Stanford fan

    Sad. Stanford Daily had the chance to break the most riveting story in a long time. Simple research could have revealed that no such student existed at Stanford.

    Instead some dude at Deadspin from Florida calls Stanford to find out.

  • Miles Bennett-Smith

    I appreciate your concerns and understand what you and @stanfordfan:disqus are saying. I would hope that both of you and anyone else read my column about why we at The Daily missed this story, but I would like to summarize briefly my perspective. I never heard anyone mention during any story that Lennay Kekua was from Stanford. I recognize that you might not accept that as reason to miss this, but we can find just two stories that had Stanford anywhere in the text: one of which has been pulled from the South Bend Tribune and another from the New York Times that I did not read, see, or hear about despite my avid following of the Te’o story throughout the year as a fan of college football. I challenge anyone else to come forward saying that they had heard she was a Stanford grad because no one here on campus remembers hearing that either.
    If I had heard that Kekua was a Stanford student, I would have immediately called baloney because I would have heard of her accident, her cancer, her death, her dating Te’o, any or all of those. We had no reason to investigate Manti Te’o or his story because that was never our story at The Daily. It was, however, ESPN’s and Sports Illustrated’s and the New York Times’, and plenty more. They should have looked into what they were reporting, but that was not our duty and we had no reason to suspect this girl was fake because we had no idea she was supposed to have attended Stanford.
    So while I respect your opinion, unless the great reporters you mention had also heard from someplace that Kekua had been a student here, I do not believe they would have done anything differently than we did. Thanks again and let me know if you have more questions.

  • Miss.86

    This article is completely plagiarized from deadspin. If your goal is to be a journalist, show some integrity!

  • Gary Morgan

    Way to stay on top of a story involving a supposed student at your school! HOW DID YOU NOT BREAK THIS STORY MONTHS AGO?!?!?!? Pathetic.

  • Pac10champs

    Leland Stanford JUNIOR university indeed.

  • james

    The only connection to Stanford is the fake girlfriend of Te’o supposedly went to Stanford which is basically no connection at all. Why is this making headlines on the Daily. The connection to Stanford is inconsequential. Aren’t there any stories actually about Stanford worth putting in the Daily?

    Also all you did Miles was copy from stuff off the Internet. This is not reporting.

  • c n

    That’s convenient that you can only find two stories now that this has been exposed as a hoax. The bottom line is that this was a national story, that was both broadcast and written about, that captivated more than just college football fans, and no one picked up on the details and asked probative questions. The Te’o story, by itself, had no place in The Daily, but there was a local underlying connection to Stanford that could have been picked up. As far as holding national news organizations who did report this story accountable, I agree. But journalists work as a team collectively to seek truth and report it, and if they do not do their jobs, then they all fail.

  • test

    >Aren’t there any stories actually about Stanford worth putting in the Daily?

    Yeah, feel free to read the rest of the newspaper to see stories about Stanford that are worth putting in the Daily because they are already in the Daily.

    >Also all you did Miles was copy from stuff off the Internet. This is not reporting.

    Reposting the PR statements is valuable for any reader.

  • http://profiles.google.com/manotick C G

    Well, at least we know the girl friend of the Alabama quarterback is real….right Brent??

  • 80s student

    All alums are saying is: do a better job. As a student, learn from this missed opportunity. The Mercury News, for example, missed it, too. It wasn’t your duty, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t err badly, and with an inside angle on easily finding any other student, you could have done some interesting work.

  • alum

    Oh please! Get off your high horse. The Stanford connection was not well publicized. The day it broke was when I learned that the girlfriend supposedly went to Stanford. This may just be an anecdote, but I watched college football every weekend and did not realize that the girlfriend supposedly went to Stanford until the hoax story broke. From what I know, Stanford Daily doesn’t have a very large sports section, so it is reasonable that they did not read the two articles that mentioned the Stanford link in it out of the hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about Teo.

    Read http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/college-football/news/20130117/manti-teo-girlfriend-hoax-quotes/?sct=hp_t11_a2&eref=sihp