Manti Te'o hoax: Tuiasosopo family shaken by news of molestation
In an emotional TV interview about the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax, the pastor of an Antelope Valley church said he could “vividly remember” visits from the person or people who he now knows molested his son just “a room away.”
Titus Tuiasosopo and his wife joined their son Ronaiah, speaking publically about the ruse Ronaiah perpetrated in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw. Much of the interview shined new light on the Tuiasosopo’s – a famous football family – and Ronaiah’s reluctance to report the sexual molestation to his parents.
Tuiasosopo, 22, and his family spoke publicly in the second part of a television interview that aired Friday. In the interview, Tuiasosopo was pressed to explain why he created "Lennay Kekua," the girlfriend the Notre Dame linebacker Te'o met online and was told died of leukemia in September.
During the college football season, Te’o repeatedly spoke to the media, including The Times, about his girlfriend, the car accident that left her seriously injured and the leukemia that led to her death, which occurred 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 his team to an undefeated season and championship berth.
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.”
Titus Tuiasosopo said when his son came clean, it “felt like drinking from a fire hydrant.
“It kind of just smacked us in the face,” he said.
The father said he was disappointed Ronaiah did not come to him as a teenager, but hearing his son explain his situation “gives me an understanding” of the choice his son made.
“He is still my son,” Titus said, “and we love him unconditionally.”
Ronaiah 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.”
-- Matt Stevens and Kate Mather
Photo: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo appears on television with Dr. Phil. Credit: CBS Television Distribution/Peteski Productions