Manti Te’o sent roses to address linked to alleged hoaxer
Public records indicate that the Carson address where Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o sent two dozen white roses to what he thought was his dead girlfriend’s family was actually a family home of the man publicly identified as the one behind the ruse.
In an interview with ESPN last week, the Heisman Trophy-runner up said he sent the flowers to 21503 Water St. His parents “sent a little gift themselves,” Te’o added, per a transcript of the interview.
Public records linked several relatives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo to the home, including his father, Titus. A neighbor confirmed to The Times last week that Ronaiah was seen at the home as recently as Christmas. Family members, she said, left when news of the hoax broke.
When a Times reporter knocked on the door last week, no one answered.
Te’o said he didn’t know what the location really was but said he received a picture of the roses.
“They accepted it, and they sent me a picture of the roses, of them getting it,” he told ESPN. “They sent a picture of the roses – the flowers that my parents sent – they sent it to my parents. As proof that they got it.”
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo’s uncle, former pro football player Peter "Navy" 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 is strong," Tuiasosopo said. "The family will stay together."
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."
Reporters have swarmed the church and the Tuiasosopo family’s Palmdale home after 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 Notre Dame player 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 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.
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."
— Kate Mather and Matt Stevens
Photo: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o at an Aug. 16 NCAA college football media day in South Bend, Ind. Credit: Joe Raymond / Associated Press