Notre Dame star Manti Te'o says he was victim of online hoax - MyFoxAustin.com | KTBC Fox 7 | News, Weather, Sports

Notre Dame star Manti Te'o says he was victim of online 'girlfriend' hoax

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(FOXNews.com) -- Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o was portrayed in the lead-up to this month's BCS Championship game as a young man who persevered in the face of tragedy, with his grandmother and girlfriend dying on the same day in September.

But the truth may be stranger than fiction.

It now seems that the supposed girlfriend's death was some sort of hoax, as the university put out a statement Wednesday night saying that Te'o and his family had been victimized by "someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua (who) apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia."

A Twitter user claiming to be Kekua sent out a message late Wednesday saying that "a lot of truths and myths" will be addressed on her profile at 3 p.m. EST Thursday.

The apparent hoax was first reported by sports gossip site Deadspin.com, which said one of its sources claimed to be "80 percent sure" that Te'o was "in on it" as some sort of publicity stunt.

It remains unclear how Te'o could have been unaware of the truth about Kekua. The college star put out a statement Wednesday saying the matter was "incredibly embarrassing to talk about," but he claimed he had been tricked and he suggested the relationship was primarily pursued from a distance.

"I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," he said in a statement cited by ESPN.com. "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. ...

"In retrospect, I obviously should have been more cautious. If anything good of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was."

Te'o was a Heisman finalist last year and helped lead the Fighting Irish to the championship game, but the team wasn't much match for Alabama, which won 42-14.

Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown confirmed that on Dec. 26 the school's coaches were informed of the 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," Brown said in a statement posted on the football program's website.

But Deadspin reports that most of the back story about Kekua, including her first meeting Te'o in 2009 after a Stanford game, was a lie. The website said its sources suggested an old friend of the linebacker had created "Lennay Kekua" as a fake Twitter persona, one snowballed out of control last year as Te'o's celebrity grew.

Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick forcefully shot down such speculation Wednesday night in a quickly arranged news conference.

"This was a very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can't fully understand that had a certain cruelty at its core. ... Manti is the victim of that hoax and he will carry that with him for a while," Swarbrick said.

"I want to stress as someone who has probably been as engaged in this as anyone in the past couple weeks that nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota."

Te'o alerted school officials to the hoax on Dec. 26, Swarbrick said, adding the he personally met with the player the next day and decisions were made to hire an independent investigative firm to look into the matter.

He said Te'o had pursued the relationship with the woman only online and by phone, and the person on the other end "roped him more and more into the trap."

The week before Notre Dame played Michigan State on Sept. 15, coach Brian Kelly told reporters that Te'o's grandmother and a friend had died. Te'o didn't miss the game. He said Kekua had told him not to miss a game if she died.

Te'o turned in one of his best performances of the season in the 20-3 victory in East Lansing, and his playing through heartache became a prominent theme during the Irish's undefeated regular season.

Four days ago Te'o posted on his Twitter account: "Can't wait to start training with the guys! Workin to be the best! The grind continues! #Future"

Te'o's mother did not immediately return a call from the Associated Press seeking comment.

Swarbrick said Te'o had intended to go public with the story next week, but that timeline was expedited by publication Wednesday of the Deadpsin article.

"At the end of the day, this is Manti's story to tell, and we believe he should have the right to tell it," Swarbrick said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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