UPDATE 6:58 p.m.: In a weird twist on this story, someone this afternoon Tweeted from @LennayKay, the Twitter account Deadspin says once belonged to Lennay Kekua.
— L K (@LennayKay) January 16, 2013
UPDATE 5:25 p.m.: A Stanford spokeswoman said that while the university does not have a statement, “our Registrar has no record of a student by that name (Lennay Kekua), or even a name close to it, ever having attending Stanford.”
It was a gripping, emotional story that served as one of the most inspirational narratives of the college football season, and it has been reported by news outlets nationwide. Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o met Stanford student Lennay Kekua in Palo Alto in 2009. Soon after the two became a couple, Kekua was injured in a car accident. She was eventually diagnosed with leukemia, and last fall she died. Her life, love and death reportedly inspired Te’o as he led the Irish to the national championship game.
Today, however, the fairytale story of Te’o and his love from Stanford has ended in controversy.
Notre Dame said Wednesday that according to Te’o and his family, “Lennay Kekua” is a fictitious name and the linebacker is the victim of a hoax. A detailed post on the website Deadspin says Kekua may never have existed at all. From Deadspin:
Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper… The Stanford registrar’s office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there’s no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
From the Facebook page for Notre Dame football:
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.
ESPN reports that Te’o has released this 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.
“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.”
Te’o’s comment about a relationship with a woman he met online contradicts at least one report about how he met Kekua. From the South Bend Tribune, which is cited in the Deadspin post:
Lennay Kekua was a Stanford student and Cardinal football fan when the two exchanged glances, handshakes and phone numbers that fateful weekend three seasons ago.
Deadspin, meanwhile, backs up Te’o’s statement:
The real beginning of their relationship apparently occurred on Twitter, as an encounter between @MTeo_5 and @lovalovaloveYOU, on Oct. 10, 2011.