Manti Te'o hoax: Woman sent photo to 'comfort' classmate's cousin
The Southern California woman linked to an elaborate hoax involving Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said she thought she was "just comforting" the cousin of an old Antelope Valley high school classmate when she sent a photo of herself to the alleged perpetrator of the hoax.
In an interview aired Wednesday on NBC's "Today" show, Diane O'Meara, 23, said she went to high school with the alleged instigator, who she said used pictures from her Facebook page to create Te'o's fictitious girlfriend, Lennay Kekua. O'Meara's former Paraclete High School classmate, identified as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo in the Deadspin.com report that revealed the hoax, contacted her in December asking for another photo, she said.
"He relayed this story that him and his cousin had been in a traumatic car accident in early 2012," O'Meara said, saying Tuiasosopo mentioned streets she knew from their hometown. "He relayed to me that as a birthday gift he wanted to do a photo slide show for his cousin."
The California Highway Patrol confirmed to The Times that Tuiasosopo and two passengers were involved in a two-vehicle crash in Lancaster on March 23, 2012.
Tuiasosopo even sent pictures of his cousin, who had bandages and was in a hospital bed, O'Meara said.
O'Meara said she only spoke to Tuiasosopo "two or three times" in high school and hadn't heard from him in about five years.
"If somebody called me out of the blue after five years, I don't know that I would hand over a picture of myself," Savannah Guthrie of "Today" said. "Why do you think you did that?"
"I could see how people would think that," O'Meara said. "But we're raised to be polite, we're raised to have a kind heart. He repeatedly reached out to me on Facebook and I almost felt guilty as far as not submitting a photo with this sign for this photo slide show .... Out of the kindness of my heart, I thought I was just comforting somebody that I knew of."
Tuiasosopo has not commented publicly on the allegations.
O'Meara said she didn't know who Te'o was until last week. The Heisman Trophy runner-up, who spoke to the media repeatedly about his girlfriend and her supposed battle with cancer, has denied any role in the ruse. A portion of his own interview with ABC's Katie Couric aired Wednesday on "Good Morning America."Te'o has said that, after more than a year of corresponding on social media and by telephone with someone he thought was Kekua, he was told in September that 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.
O'Meara said she sympathized with the football player about the incident, which she called "difficult" and "very shocking."
"You know, I'm still trying to wrap my head around this entire situation myself," she said. "If Manti is really innocent in this entire situation, I empathize with him because I assume we would have the same emotions, you know. Frustration ... anger, confusion."
O'Meara confirmed she had obtained an attorney but said "at this time, there's no action" regarding criminal charges.
"The lesson learned is really that social media and the way that it's growing, there's definitely a lack of protection and privacy laws," she said.
— Kate Mather and Matt Stevens