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Man at center of Te'o hoax says he was molested

| Friday, Feb. 1, 2013, 2:50 p.m.
Host Dr. Phil McGraw (left) interviews Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and his parents, Titus and Cheannie Tuiasosopo during taping for the 'Dr. Phil Show' in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/CBS Television Distribution/Peteski Productions)

The man who says he tricked Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o into falling for a fake woman he created online claims the hoax had “everything to do” with escaping from real life because he had been molested as a child.

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw for the “Dr. Phil Show,” the second part of which aired Friday.

The 22-year-old Tuiasosopo told McGraw he was repeatedly molested, beginning at age 12, by someone who was close to his father, a church pastor and youth minister.

“I felt that I couldn't do things, accomplish things, pursue things, live out as Ronaiah,” Tuiasosopo said. “And I felt the need to create this. It has everything to do with what I went through as a child.”

Tuiasosopo did not identify his alleged attacker by name and did not say whether he had told police about his claim.

His father, Titus Tuiasosopo, said it was difficult to hear the details of the abuse his son suffered.

“When he told me the location, the time, I could go back and vividly remember those trips, the times that these guys came over,” he said. “That part, right there, was kind of gut wrenching for me.”

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo said he built the online persona of Lennay Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te'o said he fell in love with despite never meeting in person. Tuiasosopo then killed off the character last September.

He said creating Kekua — who met Te'o online during the player's freshman year at Notre Dame — allowed him to live in an alternate reality and helped validate that he was a good person.

“When I looked at Lennay through Manti's eyes, I got a glimpse of who I was as far as my heart,” said Tuisasosopo, who told McGraw that he fell in love with Te'o.

When Deadspin.com exposed the hoax in a story on Jan. 16, the report raised questions about whether Te'o was in on it. But Te'o denied he was involved.

Kekua “died” the same day in September that Te'o's real grandmother died, and the story of the linebacker playing through the double tragedy became an often-told tale as Notre Dame went 12-0 last season and earned a spot in the BCS championship. Te'o failed at the time to make clear that he had only known Kekua online and through phone calls.

Te'o and his family had no immediate comment on Friday.

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