SOUTH BEND, Ind. - A story about Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying of leukemia, which the Notre Dame All-American credited with inspiring him as he led the Fighting Irish to the BCS title game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker, the school said Wednesday.
The university issued a release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record that Lennay Kekua ever existed.
The university said that Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te'o, a Punahou School alumnus, and his parents on Dec. 26 that he had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," the school said.
Manti Te‘o, a Punahou School alumnus, was led to believe a woman he met online had died of leukemia during the football season.
"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," Te'o said in a statement released Wednesday. "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."
However, Te'o stopped short of saying he had ever met her in person or correcting reports that said he had.
The university said "the proper authorities" are investigating a "very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."
The investigators "were able to discover online chatter among the perpetrators that was certainly the ultimate proof of this, the joy they were taking," said Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick.
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.
There are Twitter and Instagram accounts registered to Lennay Kekua, but Deadspin.com 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 is not named Lennay Kekua.
Te'o went on to finish second in the Heisman Trophy voting, and led Notre Dame to its first appearance in the BCS championship.