According to an article in the South Bend Tribune, Manti Teo first “met” Lennay Kekua after Notre Dames 45-38 loss to Stanford in 2009. The two never met, of course, and her existence was, quite simply, a hoax. While its difficult to trace back the genesis of the online relationship, it is possible to piece together a timeline of events since early September, when Teos story first expanded on a national level. It all starts with Kekuas “death,” which occurred at some point between Sept. 11 and Sept. 15, according to conflicting reports.
-Sept. 11-15: Lennay Kekua dies. As Deadspin.com notes, her death was reported by various outlets as either occurring before Te’o’s grandmother passed away on Sept. 11, after his grandmother’s death on Sept. 12, three days later or four days later.
Per the South Bend Tribune on Oct. 12: “Less than 48 hours later, at 4 a.m. Hawaii time, Kekua sent a text to Brian and Ottilia (Te’o), expressing her condolences over the passing of Ottilia’s mom, Annette Santiago, just hours before. Brian awakened three hours later, saw the text, and sent one back. There was no response. A couple of hours later, Manti called his parents, his heart in pieces. Lennay Kekua had died.”
“Somewhere above those clouds reside the souls of his grandmother, Annette Santiago, and his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who died three days apart in mid-September,” the New York Post wrote on Dec. 30.
Via Deadspin, CBSSports.com had Kekua’s death as occurring four days later: “Wearing a black beaded lei representing his native Hawaii, Te’o said coming back to play football following the deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend just four days apart this season makes everything he’s achieved since then more worthwhile.”
During an appearance on Dan Patrick’s radio show, Pete Thamel of Sports Illustratedsaid that “Te’o got up in front of his entire team and spoke in detail of his girlfriend’s death” after he received the news.
-Sept. 15: Michigan State game. In his first game after learning of Kekua’s death, Te’o makes 12 tackles in Notre Dame’s 20-3 win over the Spartans. After the game, Te’o tells ESPN’s Heather Cox that Kekua and his grandmother “were with me.” He continues:
“So, I couldn’t do without them. I couldn’t do without the support of my family and my girlfriend’s family. I’m so grateful for all the love and support that all the fans, both Michigan State and Notre Dame, and fans around the world for supporting me and my family and my girlfriend’s family. I miss them. I miss them. But I know that I’ll see them again one day.”
-Sept. 22: Michigan game, Kekua’s funeral. Kekua is buried at noon Eastern time on Sept. 22, Te’o says at a press conference on Oct. 4. Te’o says that Kekua did not want him to attend, but she wanted white roses sent to her funeral. As Deadspinnotes, after Te’o made two interceptions in Notre Dame’s 13-6 win over Michigan, coach Brian Kelly awards Kekua the game ball and tells Te’o to bring it back to Hawaii. Said Te’o in the Oct. 4 news conference:
“That has to be the hardest thing that I’ve had to do so far; to be able to operate, and to be able to try to continue with my daily routine, but knowing that I just lost two women that I truly loved. That was the hardest thing. And the other hardest thing was my girlfriend’s service was the day of Michigan’s game. And I remember when I found out I knew when they were going to close the casket and all that stuff, and it was during walk thru.”
-Nov. 4: Te’o tweets with Kekua’s “sister.” As detailed in the Deadspin article, in early November someone posing as Kekua’s sister “popped up on Twitter under the name @uilanirae.”On Nov. 4, Te’o tweeted, “Shout out to Ms. @uilanirae she’s new to twitter and really needs some new followers! One of the realist people I know.”
The Deadspin article notes that Te’o “also wished (@uilanirae) a happy Thanksgiving on Nov. 22,” and that he deleted his tweets after her account was revealed as a fraud.
-Dec. 6: Te’o discovers the hoax. While in Orlando for ESPN’s end-of-year awards show, Te’o receives a phone call from a number he connected with Kekua. While the voice on the line was Kekua, the person speaking with Te’o told him that she was not dead. “Manti was very unnerved by that, as you can imagine,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference Wednesday evening.
Swarbrick also told reporters that the phone calls persisted for the following weeks. Te’o “maintained that secret” until Dec. 26, Swarbrick said.
Dec. 8: Heisman Trophy ceremony. Just two days after receiving the phone call, Te’o attends the Heisman Trophy ceremony in Manhattan. He finishes second in the balloting behind Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.
-Dec. 26: Te’o informs coaching staff. Just shy of three weeks after the initial call, Te’o briefs Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco on the developing situation. Kelly and Diaco then tell Swarbrick.
-Dec. 27: Meeting with Swarbrick. Te’o and the athletic director meet for nearly two hours. Swarbrick “asked him to reveal every detail of the relationship as he knew it with that woman,” he said Wednesday.
“Manti was forthright… was eager to share the information with me. I met with him the next day… to just review what we had gone over to make sure we had the details correct. He was a full and excellent partner in making sure that the info I had was correct.”
The two met again the next day, when Te’o was asked for and supplied additional details to his story. “I met with him the next day to just review what we had gone over to make sure we had the details correct,” Swarbrick said.
After these meetings, Swarbrick and Notre Dame decide to hire a private investigative firm to look into the situation.
-Jan. 3: Te’o’s quotes. During a press conference leading up to the BCS championship game, Te’o was asked by a reporter how football helped him with the “turmoil you’ve faced with your grandmother and girlfriend.” Te’o replied:
“I think whenever you’re in football, it takes your mind off a lot of things. 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.”
-Jan. 4: Notre Dame receives report. Swarbrick said Wednesday that the university received the final report from the private investigative firm on Jan. 4. He shares the findings with Te’o’s parents a day later. “We left that meeting with an understanding that they would think about what they had heard,” Swarbrick said. “It is my understanding that they were on a timetable to release that story themselves next week.”
-Jan. 7: BCS championship game. Te’o is not his normally productive self in Notre Dame’s 42-14 loss to Alabama, missing several tackles and failing to make any impact in a lopsided defeat.
-Jan. 16: Deadspin report. The story, co-written by Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey, details the many layers to the hoax. Burke and Dickey write how a friend of Te’o’s, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, created Kekua as an online persona – doing so in 2008, according to a source.
Deadspin goes on to cite another source who said he was “80 percent sure” that Te’o was in on the hoax. The source also contends “that the two perpetrated Lennay Kekua’s death with publicity in mind. According to the friend, there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o together on Tuiasosopo’s now-deleted Instagram account.”
-Jan. 16: Notre Dame’s statement. The university released a statement Wednesday afternoon, shortly after Deadspin first published its story. The statement:
“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.”
-Jan. 16: Te’o issues statement. Te’o issued his own statement through his representation, Creative Artists Agency. In it, Te’o says that he was the “victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies.” That “was, and is, painful and humiliating,” Te’o said.
-Jan. 16: Swarbrick’s press conference. In a press conference Wednesday evening, an emotional Swarbrick broke down how and when Te’o informed Notre Dame of his situation. “While we still don’t know all the dimensions of this, there are certain things I feel confident we do know,” Swarbrick said.
“This was a very elaborate, sophisticated hoax perpetrated for reasons we can’t fully understand. But it had a cruelty at its core. Manti was the victim of that hoax and will carry that for a while.”
Said Swarbrick: “He was not a person who had a second thought in offering his assistance. Nothing about what I learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te’o one iota.”