Staggering the amount of details Te'o or whoever made up about this girl....
On Sunday, Sept. 23, I sat down with Manti Te'o for a story that was due two hours after the interview concluded and would appear on SI's cover later that week. The detail he provided me about Lennay Kekua, who he said had died 10 days earlier -- six hours after his grandmother passed away -- was staggering. He said that they met through his cousin nearly four years ago and started "dating" on Oct. 15, 2011. Te'o told me she graduated from Stanford, lived in Carson, Calif., had family roots in Hawaii and helped take over part of her dad's job in the construction business, though her passion was to work with children and she'd traveled as far as New Zealand to do so. He said she got hit by a drunk driver on April 28, 2012, discovered that she had leukemia while recovering, and received her cancer treatment at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif. He never specified that he'd met her in person, and I didn't ask. Why would you ask someone if he'd actually met his girlfriend who recently died?
ROSENBERG: Te'o hoax sparks more questions than answers
Last night I went through about six hours of interviews from the five days I spent at Notre Dame reporting the Te'o story. Father Paul Doyle, the rector of Dillon Hall, where Te'o lived for three years, told me, "I think I had met the girlfriend. I think she had been here visiting the year before." (He gave Te'o a prayer card that said the men of Dillon Hall were praying for his loss.) Coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and teammates such as Theo Riddick, Robby Toma and Cierre Wood described in painstaking detail Te'o's emotions on the day he got the call in the locker room that Kekua had died. I was told by teammates and coaches that Te'o had been on the phone with her while getting his ankles taped and for weeks after her death he stayed in close communication with her supposed family.
Before I went to campus, I had conducted lengthy interviews with Brian Te'o, Manti's dad, and Dalton Hilliard, a close friend from Punahou High in Honolulu who played at UCLA. Both said they were in frequent communication with Kekua; Brian Te'o told me he had received a condolence text from her after his mother died. They also spoke on the phone at length, as he did with Lennay's brothers after her "death." Hilliard said he received frequent texts and tweets from her.
"She was a very supportive, loving passionate individual," Hillard said. "She was all about God and prayer and being able to have faith. Me and her never met in person. But I felt like this was a testament to who she was. She would still text and tweet me before my games."
He added, "It was a pleasure for me to know her. The fact she made my best friend such a happy man, it's something that made me a happy man as well."
When I arrived in South Bend, Ind., that Wednesday morning, Te'o, his team and an entire campus talked openly about mourning Kekua. I had little reason to believe that she didn't exist.
But in retrospect there were some red flags. When I checked Lexis Nexis to find out more about Kekua, I couldn't find anything, though that's not uncommon for a college-aged student. Nor was there anything on her supposed brother, Koa. I was unable to track down any obituaries or funeral notices, but that might be explained by the fact that she had three recent places she called home, or by her family not wanting publicity.
I called Mike Eubanks at Stanford to check Kekua's graduation year. Te'o wasn't sure if it was 2010 or 2011. Eubanks is an assistant athletic director for football and he coordinates on-campus recruiting visits. He knew Te'o from Stanford recruiting him in 2008 and '09 -- Stanford had gone after him hard. Eubanks, who directed Stanford's football media relations this season, couldn't find her in the alumni directory and thought it was odd that, on such a small campus, he'd never heard of a student dating Te'o. This was the most glaring sign I missed. I thought that maybe she didn't graduate, so we took any reference to Stanford out of the story.
We searched for details about the car crash. Brian Te'o told our fact checker and Manti told me that a drunk driver had hit her. We couldn't find any articles about that accident and took the drunk driving reference out. It was just a car accident.
For the interview on Sunday afternoon Te'o and I sat in the linebacker meeting room in Notre Dame's football facility and he looked straight at me as he spoke. His eyes welled up at times. The only time he didn't speak with confidence was when I asked how they met. I didn't press him, as it was clearly something he didn't want to share. I suspected they may have met online, understood he wouldn't have wanted that public and moved on.
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