Manti Te'o hoax: Diane O'Meara says she was hounded for photos
The Long Beach woman whose photos were used to personify Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend has revealed some clues as to how she got tangled in the matter, explaining to The Times that a former high school classmate repeatedly asked for photos and videos from her in the weeks before the hoax unraveled.
In an interview with The Times, Diane O'Meara, 23, of Long Beach, said that during a six-day period in December, the alleged perpetrator, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, contacted her through social media, texting and phone calls about 10 times asking her to send a photo of herself. Then, after she sent the photo, in part to “get this guy off my back,” she said Tuiasosopo messaged her asking for a video clip or another photo.
By that time, his requests were “kind of annoying, kind of pestering,” O'Meara said.
O'Meara said she spoke to Tuiasosopo "two or three times" in high school but hadn't heard from him until he sent a Facebook message on Dec. 16, saying he wanted to talk to her about something urgent. He wrote that he didn't want to bother her, she said, "but it's kind of important."
She eventually responded, asking what was up. Tuiasosopo said it was complicated, O'Meara recalled, and said he didn't want to explain it on Facebook.
She sent him a text later, asking if everything was OK, she said. Tuiasosopo sent another Facebook message and called her on Dec. 21.
"He had a very difficult time even starting to explain it to me," O'Meara said. "But finally he relayed this elaborate story of him and his cousin being in a terrible car accident in the beginning of 2012."
“I never thought of him as someone to lie like that," O'Meara said. "I almost felt guilty, because he kept persisting, kept asking, kept elaborating on the story.”
On Dec. 21, O'Meara sent a photo of her holding sign bearing "MSMK" and the date of her cousin’s birthday, per Tuiasosopo's request.
Tuiasosopo then contacted her again in early January, saying his cousin was having brain surgery, O'Meara said. This time he wanted her to make a video wishing him “Good luck on the 7th” or send a photo that said “Good luck No. 5.” Tuiasosopo’s cousin was a football player who wore No. 5, he told her, and the brain surgery was scheduled for Jan. 7.
Te’o, who wore No. 5 for Notre Dame, would play in the BCS national championship game on Jan. 7.
O'Meara texted back. She wished Tuiasosopo and his cousin well, she said, but said she felt awkward sending more.
"I've already sent you one photo," she recalled writing. "It's kind of weird."
O'Meara said she received two additional messages from Tuiasosopo before she was contacted by a Deadspin.com reporter on Jan. 13. After realizing photos from her Facebook account — along with the photo she sent Tuiasosopo — were used to create the girlfriend, O'Meara said she was "mortified."
She called Tuiasosopo and asked where else he posted the photo she sent for his cousin. Her identity had been compromised, she explained.
"I could tell something was off when I talked to him this time," she said. "He was definitely nervous. He was definitely caught off guard and was a little bit frantic."
As Te'o would later tell ESPN and Katie Couric, he got a phone call in early December saying his girlfriend, who he thought had died of cancer three months earlier, was alive. Confused, he demanded she send a photo with the day's date and her initials, "MSMK."
The photo Te'o received, O'Meara said, was of her.
Both Te'o and O'Meara have denied they were involved in the hoax, each saying Tuiasosopo had called them to apologize. Tuiasosopo has not commented publicly on the matter, but has hired an attorney.
"My world flipped 360," O'Meara said. "To wrap your head around something like that — not only has your identity been taken, but it's been taken into this false relationship with this person that is well-known in the media. ... This series of events was mind-boggling."
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— Matt Stevens and Kate Mather