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Manti Te'o hoax: Scandal has been 'nightmare,' family member says

January 18, 2013 |  3:12 am

Relatives of one of the figures in the hoax involving Notre Dame's star linebacker Manti Te'o said the scandal has been a "nightmare" but believe the full truth will eventually get out.

A deadspin.com report released Wednesday linked a Palmdale man to the hoax that fooled media outlets across the nation. The man allegedly was involved in creating a fake Twitter account for a woman who never existed and linked her with the Heisman Trophy runner-up, who spoke repeatedly to the media about her and her illness.

One relative of the man told the Long Beach Press-Telegram on Thursday that the ordeal has been a "nightmare" and said he didn't believe the man would perpetrate the hoax.

"This is all still new to me," Ed Lalau told the paper. "I just pray that we get over this. It's been a nightmare for everyone."

The man's father posted a message on Facebook in which he spoke about the frenzy of media attention.

“I know so much has been splattered all over the media about my son & my family. I also know that many who were born in a manger in Bethlehem & continue to walk on water will undoubtedly express their opinions," he wrote. "Those of you who know us the best still love us the most. It my hope & prayer that we allow the truth to take its course, wherever that may lead."

He described Te'o as "an amazing role model for our youth and Samoan community."

That man's family was asking for privacy. A woman who answered the door smiled politely and said "No thank you, no comment," to a Times reporter who identified himself.

"I would appreciate if you gave us some privacy please," she added.

Adding to the mystery, someone logged into a Twitter account for the fake girlfriend sent out a Tweet stating: "My statement: This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but I have been told by Alabama's offense that Manti Te'o is not real."

Meanwhile, several news organizations reported that they had identified the woman whose photo was used as that of "the girlfriend." But that woman did not respond to calls by The Times, and she was not at her place of work in the South Bay on Thursday afternoon.

On Dec. 26, Te'o told Notre Dame officials that his girlfriend did not exist and that he was a victim of an elaborate Internet hoax, the school said Wednesday.

"In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said, "because he is a guy who is so willing to believe in others and so ready to help, that as this hoax played out in a way that called upon those tendencies of Manti, it roped him more and more into the trap."

Swarbrick outlined a bizarre story in which Te'o learned, more than three months after her reported death, that his "girlfriend" never existed. The player received a phone call Dec. 6, while at an awards show, from what he believed was the old cellphone number of the supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. The woman on the other end — in a voice he recognized as Kekua's — told him that she wasn't dead. She later tried to rekindle the relationship, Swarbrick said.

"Every single thing about this, until that day in the first week of December, was real to Manti," Swarbrick said. "There was no suspicion it wasn't. No belief it might not be. The pain was real. The grief was real. The affection was real. That's the nature of this sad, cruel game."

Swarbrick likened the hoax to the movie "Catfish," in which a person creates a fake persona with someone else's picture and then dupes another person into a romantic relationship. The film spurred a popular MTV show by the same name that investigates online relationships to see if the participants are real.

Te'o notified his coaches of the situation after discussing it with his parents over the Christmas break. Swarbrick said he met with the player twice and found his story about the exclusively online and telephone relationship to be consistent. Te'o and Kekua never met face to face, Swarbrick said.

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-- Matt Stevens in Palmdale and Richard Winton, Kate Mather and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles

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