Manti Te'o hoax: Tuiasosopo faked 'girlfriend's' death after fight
The Palmdale man who created Manti Te'o's fake girlfriend said he staged the woman's death after a fight with Te'o over whether the football star was talking to other women.
Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, 22, spoke publicly for the first time regarding the allegations in a television interview with Dr. Phil McGraw. Tuiasosopo confirmed that he was the one behind "Lennay Kekua," the girlfriend 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 the relationship between Kekua and Te'o had been strained for about two weeks before Kekua's supposed death.
"Things had gotten a little shaken," he said. "They were talking less."
At one point, Tuiasosopo said he logged onto Te'o's social media accounts to "make sure nothing was different." He noticed changes on Te'o's Skype, he said, and Kekua asked Te'o if he had been talking to other girls.
Te'o was angry the morning Kekua confronted him, Tuiasosopo said, and after Tuiasosopo learned Te'o's grandmother had died that day, he backed off. "Forget everything," he recalled telling Te'o. "I'm sorry."
But Te'o and Kekua continued to fight, Tuiasosopo said. Te'o said he "didn't need" Kekua and had been talking to other women, including two ex-girlfriends, Tuiasosopo said.
"So from my understanding, OK, we're done. But me, Ronaiah, I was hurting. It hit me like a brick wall," Tuiasosopo said. "I was like, 'Whoa, I've given so much into this.’ And I realized right then in that moment, that I poured so much into Lennay, that I myself was getting nothing, and look what I was left with.
"I was crying that morning," he continued. "I was hurt, so right then and there I made this decision: 'I can't do this Lennay thing anymore.' I ended it."
"I felt like, even if we ended this and we moved on with our lives and this wasn't brought back up and the truth wasn't known ... we wouldn't truly be moving on," he said. "It just wasn't the truth."
In other interviews, Te'o has denied perpetrating the ruse. Tuiasosopo told McGraw that Te'o "had no idea" Kekua did not exist.
"He had no involvement," Tuiasosopo said. "He did not know anything."
Tuiasosopo said he considered Kekua another part of him and realized the more he communicated with Te'o, the more his own feelings became involved. The two shared common values and bonded over faith and family, he said.
"As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person," he said of Te'o. "I did all that I could to make this person a better person, even though I wasn't getting nothing out of it.
"Of course it's very shameful and very painful to talk about," Tuiasosopo continued. "But the truth of it is that ... I grew feelings. I grew emotions that sooner or later I couldn't control anymore."
When McGraw asked Tuiasosopo about his sexuality, he replied: "If you look at this situation and look at everything I've been through, I would say, yeah, I am gay. But honestly, I'm so confused and I'm so lost and I'm just finding me.
"You've heard of recovering drug addicts?" he said. "It takes a lot of courage to stand and say that. To recover from homosexuality and this type of thing. Not only that, coming back to your real life, as hard as a task as that is, I'm going to do all that I can to live right."
-- Kate Mather and Matt Stevens
Photo: Talk show host Dr. Phil McGraw interviews Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old Palmdale man behind an elaborate hoax involving Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o. The interview marks the first time Tuiasosopo has spoken publicly about the allegations. Credit: CBS Television Distribution / Peteski Productions