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Story of Te'o girlfriend death apparently a hoax

| Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, 5:54 p.m.
Notre Dame issued a release Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013, saying a story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying, which he said inspired him to play better as he helped the Fighting Irish get to the BCS title game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker. (AP))

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — A story that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia — a loss he said inspired him to help lead the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game — was dismissed by the university Wednesday as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.

Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said Te'o told coaches Dec. 26 he had received a call while at an awards ceremony from the phone number of his late girlfriend, Lennay Kekua.

By Te'o's own account, she was an “online” girlfriend. Swarbrick said they also talked by telephone.

Swarbrick said, based on a report from an investigative firm hired by the school, he believes Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose death was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.

“Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o one iota,” Swarbrick said at a news conference Wednesday night after Deadspin.com reported in a lengthy story that it could find no record that Kekua existed.

Te'o said in a statement: “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,” he said.

“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.”

Swarbrick said investigators' report indicated those behind the hoax were in contact with each other, discussing what they were doing.

Deadspin reported that there was no record of Lennay Marie Kekua dying with the Social Security Administration, that a record search produced no obituary or funeral announcement. She supposedly attended Stanford, but there is no mention of her death in the Stanford student newspaper.

The website reported Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news.

There are a few Twitter and Instagram accounts registered to Lennay Kekua, but the website reported photographs identified as Kekua online and in TV news reports are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who isn't named Lennay Kekua.

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.

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