Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick held a news conference Wednesday evening on the Manti Te'o dead girlfriend hoax.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed Manti Te'o was the subject of an elaborate hoax involving a girlfriend he met online dying during the season.
The linebacker met a woman calling herself Lennay Kekua online and she supposedly died of leukemia within 24 hours of Te'o's grandmother's death in September. The death inspired the Heisman trophy finalist to lead the Fighting Irish to the BCS's National Championship game. However, the university said Te'o had been a victim of a hoax.
"This was a very elaborate, sophisticated hoax," Swarbrick said during a news conference Wednesday night. "In many ways, Manti was the perfect victim of a hoax."
Swarbrick said that the university had conducted an investigation into the hoax and wanted Te'o to be the first to discuss the incident publicly. However, that expectation fell through when Notre Dame had to issue a statement Wednesday afternoon saying that the proper authorities are investigating a "very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators" after Deadspin.com reported it could not find any record that Kekua existed.
"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 statement from Dennis Brown, assistant vice president at Notre Dame, said. "The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax."
AP Photo: Joe Raymond
Notre Dame would not say who, specifically, was investigating the case, except that it was a national company with expertise in tracking online activity. Swarbrick said that Te'o had been alerted to the scam when he received a phone call from a number that resembled Kekua's. The person on the phone told Te'o that Kekua was still alive.
"There is a lot of tragedy here, a lot of sorrow here, but the thing I am sad about here is that he is the most incredible person I have met," Swarbrick said, tearing up.
Swarbrick said that there was no way of knowing at this point if there was more than one person involved. Swarbrick referred to the incident as a "cautionary tale for young people." He told everyone to watch the 2010 documentary "Catfish" about a young man who has a romantic relationship on Facebook and the MTV show associated with it, which deals with the perils of online dating.
"(Teo's incident) follows the exact arch of this," Swarbrick said. "The social media nature of this is harder for me to get my arms around. The way my students, my children are at risk in this environment, you just don't know what you are dealing with."
Although Swarbrick had initially said that the relationship had been "exclusively online," he later said that Te'o and Kekua had also talked on the phone.
In a statement by ESPN.com and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Te'o, an All-American linebacker acknowledged he had never met Kekua in person.
"Manti Te'o was a victim of this scam," Swarbrick repeated several times during the news conference.
When asked whether Te'o had met the perpetrator in person at any point, Swarbrick said that Te'o would be the best person to answer that question.
Te'o is expected to tell his own version of the story Thursday. The university said it will not be releasing the investigation report to the public.
Swarbrick added that he couldn't comment on what kind of criminal charges could stem from the incident.
"Manti lives his life on his sleeve ... The more trouble she (Kekua) was in, car accident, diagnosis of leukemia, the more focused he would become, the more dedicated he would become." Swarbrick said. “Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti."
Swarbrick said that Te’o cooperated throughout the investigation and "was a full and excellent partner."
Te'o released his own statement Wednesday.
"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," Te'o said in the statement. "To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
The Deadspin report said photographs identified as Kekua and shown in online tributes and on TV news reports belonged to a living 22-year-old California woman of a different name, has never had leukemia and has not met Te'o.
Reuters contributed to this report.