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Notre Dame: Manti Te’o ‘victim’ of dead girlfriend hoax

Twitter reaction to alleged Te'o girlfriend hoax
The Story: Deadspin's Manti Te'o bombshell
VIDEO: ESPN's October 2012 piece on Te'o
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Updated: January 17, 2013 7:09AM

The story was told over and over again, first by local reporters, then by a national media that couldn’t get enough of it. Manti Te’o, the heart of the vaunted Notre Dame defense, playing with a broken heart — and playing spectacularly — in the days and weeks following the tragic death of his grandmother, then hours later, the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, from leukemia.

Only Lennay Kekua never existed.

In response to a staggering report by Deadspin published Wednesday afternoon, Notre Dame released the following statement:

“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.”

UPDATE: According to ESPN, Te’o released a statement which reads:

“To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”

The Deadspin story never outright accused Te’o of being in on the hoax, but cited a source that said he was “80 percent sure that Te’o was ‘in on it,’ and that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind.

The lengthy story is a fascinating-yet-convoluted tale of falsified Twitter accounts, deleted tweets, misappropriated profile pictures, made-up people and flat-out mythmaking. It refutes nearly every detail of the story so many college football fans know by now. Te’o and Kekua did not meet at Stanford in 2009, it says, but rather their relationship began on Twitter in October of 2011. And it says the images of “Kekua” on her Twitter account were of another woman.

The bombshell casts into doubt so much of the narrative of Notre Dame’s memorable 2012 season, and much of the story that made Te’o a household name and fueled his Heisman Trophy campaign (he finished second to Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel). Word of Kekua’s death surfaced in the week leading up to the Michigan State game on Sept. 15. Te’o finished the game with 12 tackles and a recovered fumble, and spoke emotionally after the game.

“It was hard, you know?” Te’o said after the game. “I lost two women that I truly love. But I had my family around me. I had my football family around me. I had my girlfriend’s family around me. And at the end of the day, family is forever. I’m going to see them again, and it’s going to be a very happy day when I do.”

The week ahead leading up to a prime time home game against Michigan was a media whirlwind for Te’o, who was lauded for his poise and maturity in the wake of unthinkable personal pain. He wound up with two interceptions in the 13-6 Irish victory, adding to his legend and to the inspirational story. He said Kekua had insisted he stay and play should anything ever happen to her.

“I sent her roses and sent her two picks along with that,” he said.

Two weeks later, he recalled a moment at Notre Dame Stadium, during a pre game walkthrough, when he noted the time — 12:01 p.m. eastern — and realized that Kekua’s coffin had been closed a minute earlier.

All of that, according to the Deadspin report, was untrue.

A voicemail left for Te’o’s father, Brian, was not returned. Irish safety Zeke Motta tweeted a measure of support for his teammate, saying, “My dude @MTeo_5 is as real as it gets... anybody Thinking otherwise needs to check themselves.”

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