Manti Te'o tells Katie Couric: 'I was scared. That’s the truth.'
Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o said was "hurt" by the hoax allegedly created by a Palmdale man he barely knows and Te'o also admitted Wednesday that he was "scared" when he received a phone call from the girlfriend he thought was dead.
Te'o spoke to ABC's Katie Couric for his first on-camera interview since news broke last week that his supposed girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, did not exist. The full interview aired Thursday afternoon on Couric's daytime talk show, through segments were released in advance.
Te'o had spoken to reporters repeatedly about his supposed girlfriend and her battle with cancer, a story that captivated college football fans throughout the fall of 2012, when the Heisman Trophy runner-up helped his team to an undefeated regular season and to the national championship game.
Couric pressed Te'o to explain why he did not speak out when he got a call from a woman in December purporting to be Kekua weeks after she had died of the cancer.
"I did not know who to turn to. I did not know who to tell. I did not know who to trust," Te'o said. "It was a big thing for me, and I was scared. That’s the truth. I was just scared, and I didn’t know what to do."
Both Te'o and a Southern California woman whose photos were apparently used in the fake girlfriend's social media accounts have identified a Palmdale man, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, as the perpetrator of the ruse. The Deadspin.com report that revealed the hoax last week alleged that Tuiasosopo was involved in creating a Twitter account for a "Lennay Kekua" and connecting her with Te'o.
Tuiasosopo has not commented publicly on the allegations, but on Wednesday, Te'o shed new light on a conversation he had with the young man. Tuiasosopo called Te'o to apologize for the hoax last week, and Te'o said Tuiasosopo tried to explain "what he did and why he did it."
"He didn’t say why, he just explained that he just wanted to help people, and that was his way of helping people," Te'o said. "Being someone that he wasn’t and trying to connect with somebody on a different level and help them out."
Te'o's father Brian said his family had sent the Tuiasosopo's a message through an "intermediary."
“I just want to be able to let them know that we’re thinking about them and praying for them also," Brian Te'o said.
— Matt Stevens and Kate Mather