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Manti Te'o hoax: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo's family planning response

January 21, 2013 |  6:12 am

The family of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the Antelope Valley man publicly identified as the person behind the fictitious-girlfriend hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, has hired legal counsel and is determining how to respond to the incident, Tuiasosopo's uncle said.

Peter "Navy" Tuiasosopo, a former pro football player, spoke to reporters Sunday in Lancaster after a church service with his brother's congregation.

"The family is strong," Tuiasosopo said. "The family will stay together."

Tuiasosopo said family members continue to support his nephew, and intended this week to determine their next steps. He said they planned to organize some sort of formal interview.

"The family will deal with it," he said.

When asked about his nephew, Tuiasosopo said: "I don't know how he feels. He doesn't feel his best."

"Navy" Tuiasosopo spoke after his brother's congregation, Oasis Christian Church, met for its first Sunday service since news of the ruse broke. The group of about 90 people clapped and cheered when Pastor Titus Tuiasosopo was introduced during the service, held at Lancaster United Methodist Church.

Titus Tuiasosopo acknowledged the half a dozen reporters who were in attendance, but declined to discuss details of the incident afterward.

"I want to thank you for your prayers, church family," Tuiasosopo said at the end of the two-hour service, his voice breaking. "I love you. Thank you for being here."

He also thanked his relatives in attendance saying: "Your prayers were enough, but your presence is even sweeter."

Reporters have swarmed the church and Tuiasosopo's Palmdale home after his son, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, was named as a perpetrator of the Te'o hoax, revealed last week in a Deadspin.com report.

According to the report, Tuiasosopo allegedly was involved in creating a Twitter account for a "Lennay Kekua" and connecting her with Te'o. The Heisman Trophy-runner-up spoke to the media repeatedly about his girlfriend and her supposed battle with cancer.

After more than a year of corresponding on social media and by telephone with Kekua, Te'o said he was told in September the woman had died of leukemia. Three months later, the player got a call from a phone number he recognized as Kekua's, with the voice on the other end telling him Kekua wasn't dead.

On Dec. 26, Te'o told Notre Dame officials that he had learned his girlfriend did not exist, the university said.

In an interview with ESPN, Te'o denied a role in the ruse. "I wasn't faking it," he said. "I wasn't part of this."

Te'o also identified Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high school football and volleyball star, as the person behind the hoax.

Te'o told ESPN he met Tuiasosopo for the first time on Nov. 24, after Notre Dame beat USC at the Coliseum.

"I hope he learns," Te'o told ESPN. "I hope he understands what he's done. I don't wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough."

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-- Kate Mather in Lancaster

Follow Kate Mather on Twitter or Google+.

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