Manti Te'o hoax: Tuiasosopo says he was 'damaged' by molestation
The saga surrounding the Palmdale man who created Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend took another turn Friday when the hoaxer said he was molested as a child and felt “too damaged” to present himself as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.
Tuiasosopo, 22, spoke publicly in the second part of a television interview with Dr. Phil McGraw on Friday and was pressed to explain why he created "Lennay Kekua" -- a persona the Notre Dame football star met online and who then supposedly died of leukemia in September.
During the college football season, Te’o repeatedly spoke to members of the media, including The Times, about his girlfriend, the car accident that left her seriously injured and the leukemia that led to her death on the same day Te'o's grandmother died. The tale became one of the most well-known sports stories of the year as Te’o led Notre Dame to an undefeated season and a berth in the national championship game.
Tuiasosopo told McGraw that he was first molested by an older person “close” to his family when he was roughly 12 years old. When he was touched, he said, he “didn’t know what was going on.”
Meanwhile, he said he did not have a close relationship with his father growing up. Titus Tuiasosopo, his son said, was away from the family often but had returned around the time the molestation began.
Guided with questions by McGraw, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo admitted that what started as touching evolved into “every form of molestation abuse you can think about.” He said he was raped more than once, “to the point you couldn’t walk.” He did not tell his parents, he said, because he feared his father would become angry and that the news would “drive him away.”
“I just hoped that it would go away,” Tuiasosopo said, “but it didn’t.”
Tuiasosopo said his experiences and the “incredible pressure” that came with them were key to creating Kekua. He said he felt he could not accomplish things as himself, and added that he was “abused as if I was a girl.”
Subsequently, he said, it was validating to see Te’o talk so glowingly about Kekua after she died.
“I can’t express how sorry I am toward Manti and his family and everyone affected by this,” Tuiasosopo told McGraw. “I can’t express how sorry I am to my family, just the ones who have been there for me no matter what, and everyone who carried my last name or has been affected by the media -- I can’t express how sorry I am for all of it.
“People say, well, does he even have any feeling toward this,” he continued, tears streaming down his face. “The truth is I hurt every day for the decisions I made.”
Tuiasosopo's parents joined him on camera for part of the interview. Titus Tuiasosopo, who is a pastor at an Antelope Valley church, said the news initially “smacked us in the face.” But he said he “understands the choice his son made.”
“He is still my son,” the father said, “and we love him unconditionally.”
McGraw also demanded that Tuiasosopo speak in the voice he used when he spoke to Te’o as Kekua. Te’o had provided clips of voicemails the fictional girlfriend left on his phone. Behind a screen, and then later at his own home, Tuiasosopo spoke as “Kekua” and McGraw sent the voice samples back to experts for analysis. They concluded the voice was a match.
-- Matt Stevens and Kate Mather