Lennay Kekua, purported to be Manti Te'o's girlfriend, was a hoax. Whether Te'o was a victim or perpetrator of the hoax, though, remains up for debate.
Deadspin.com's Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey originally published a report Wednesday afternoon detailing how Kekua, who was thought to have passed away from Leukemia within 24 hours of Te'o's grandmother in September, never existed. The article adds a friend of the person behind Kekua was "80 percent sure" Te'o was part of the hoax.
Notre Dame officials painted a different picture later on Wednesday.
"This appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators," Notre Dame Assistant Vice President Dennis Brown said in a statement.
Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick explained after conversations with Te'o and through the findings of a private investigative firm hired by the university, he had concluded Te'o was the victim of a "Catfish" scam.
Swarbrick presented this timeline of events:
- Sometime in 2009, Te'o and Kekua "met" online, with Te'o responding to an advance from the Kekua.
- Over the next three years, Te'o attempted to meet Kekua face-to-face, but never did. "As part of the hoax, several meetings were set up where Lennay never showed, including some in Hawaii," Swarbrick said.
- Also over the next three years, Te'o and Kekua would frequently talk on the phone, and even sleep with the phone on next to their heads.
- Earlier in 2012, Kekua purportedly was in a car accident, and it was discovered she had leukemia. In September, a few days after Notre Dame beat Purdue and around the time of the death of Te'o's grandmother, Te'o was led to believe Kekua has passed away. Swarbrick explains: "(The perpetrators) understood, given the extraordinary nature of this man, the more trouble she was in car accident, diagnosis of leukemia, failing health the more engaged he would become, the more focused he would become, and the more dedicated he would become, and that's exactly what happened here."
- On Dec. 6, while Te'o was in Orlando for the ESPN College Football Awards Show, he received a call from a number he thought to be Kekua's. Te'o answered the phone, and the voice was that of the person he believe was Kekua -- only he also believed she had died three months earlier. That person told Te'o she was, in fact, not dead and attempted to re-start the relationship.
- On Dec. 26, after conferring with his family in Hawaii, Te'o informed coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco of his situation. Swarbrick was quickly notified of the situation and set up a meeting with Te'o on Dec. 27, when the linebacker returned to campus.
- On Dec. 27, Swarbrick met with Te'o for an hour and 45 minutes, and followed that up with another meeting on Dec. 28. From there, Swarbrick shared the information he had gathered with university officials and decided to hire a private investigative firm to look into the situation.
- Not via Swarbrick, but on Jan. 3 in South Florida, Te'o was asked about the tragedy he had dealt with this season, with the question specifically mentioning his girlfriend's death. He responded:
"I think whenever you're in football, it takes your mind off a lot of things," he said. "You know, this team is very special to me, and the guys on it have always been there for me, through the good times and the bad times. I rarely have a quiet time to myself because I always have somebody calling me, asking, do you want to go to the movies.
"Coach is always calling me asking me, "Are you okay? Do you need anything?" I have three roommates, Zeke (Motta), Carlo (Calabrese) and Robby Toma, who are always yelling at each other, who's going to play Call of Duty. I'm rarely by myself, and that's how I like it. I'm always around my guys, always around my family."
- On Jan. 4, Swarbrick received a report from the private investigative firm.
- On Jan. 5, Swarbrick shared that information with Te'o's parents. After conferring with Brian and Ottilia Te'o, Swarbrick was under the impression the family was prepared to release what happened to Te'o to the public sometime in the week of Jan. 26.
A few questions still remain, which will be directed at Te'o when he speaks on the matter -- his agent, Tom Condon, told ESPN.com that'll happen soon.
Among them: Why did Te'o and his family say he met Kekua on campus at Stanford in 2009? Did Te'o ever attempt to video chat with Kekua, as many of those in online relationships do? What was the nature of Te'o's relationship with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, reported by Deadspin to be the man behind Kekua and someone with whom it appears Te'o has interacted on various social media platforms and even in person?
Furthermore, why did former Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia tell ESPN.com he met Kekua and insist she exists?
It's all part of a bizarre story that, perhaps, will gain some clarity once Te'o speaks on it beyond the statement he released Wednesday following the Deadspin report. That statement confirmed that Kekua's existence was a hoax, and reads:
"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, Teo said. 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.
The events of Wednesday were a stunning turn for a player who seemed to have built an infallible legacy at Notre Dame. Te'o won more awards in a single season than any other college football player ever had and finished second in Heisman Trophy voting with the most votes of any previous runner-up.
He graced the cover of Sports Illustrated after Notre Dame's emotional win over Michigan, in which students brought leis en masse to Notre Dame Stadium to support Te'o after the deaths of his grandmother and now proven to be non-existent girlfriend.
Expect more to come out about this story in the coming days and weeks, but for now, we await they next turn in an unexpected string of events.
Correction: The ESPN Awards Show was incorrectly dated as Dec. 7. It occurred Dec. 6.