Timeline of a Hoax: Four Years in the Life of Manti Te’o’s ‘Fake’ Relationship

Until yesterday afternoon, Manti Te’o was known simply as star Notre Dame linebacker, Heisman Trophy runner-up and future first-round NFL draft pick. That all changed when Deadspin broke the news that Te’o’s supposed girlfriend Lennay Kekua — who had reportedly died in September — was not only not dead, but may have never existed in the first place, or at the very least wasn't who she said she was.

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Sue Ogrocki / AP

In this Oct. 27, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o stands on the sidelines during an NCAA college football game against Oklahoma in Norman, Okla.

Until yesterday afternoon, Manti Te’o was known simply as star Notre Dame linebacker, Heisman Trophy runner-up and future first-round NFL draft pick. Throughout the season he was a media darling, even being written about in TIME, with writers noting his emotionally charged personal life that seemed to transfer over into his stunning playing ability. That all changed when Deadspin broke the news that Te’o’s supposed girlfriend Lennay Kekua — who had reportedly died in September — was not only not dead, but may have never existed in the first place, or at the very least wasn’t who she said she was.

Te’o has denied any complicity in the hoax, saying in a statement Wednesday night that he, too, was fooled. And Notre Dame has stood behind him. In the last 24 hours, countless theories have been offered to explain what occurred, but each small revelation has been accompanied by larger, looming questions. Here is a timeline of what we think we know has transpired:

2008: According to a Deadspin source, as well as friends and relatives of Ronaiah Tuisasosopo—a California native and former high school football star who has known Te’o since at least Dec. 2011—the character “Lennay Kekua” was created by Tuiasosopo. These sources also claim that Te’o was not the first person to start an online relationship with her. Tuiasosopo has yet to issue a comment or statement.

Fall 2009: Te’o matriculates at Notre Dame.

Nov. 28, 2009: The date of the first alleged meeting between Manti Te’o and Kekua following a Stanford-Notre Dame game in Palo Alto. An Oct. 12, 2012 article in the South Bend Tribune said, “their stares got pleasantly tangled,” but offers no source for the encounter.

June 2011: Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia is introduced to “Lennay Kekua” by Tuiasosopo in American Samoa, according to an interview Mauia gave on Jan. 16, 2012 after the hoax was uncovered by Deadspin. He said he believes the woman—whom he describes as “athletic, tall, beautiful”—to be a cousin of Tuiasosopo’s. Mauia further stated he doesn’t believe Te’o was “even in the picture.”

Oct. 10, 2011: The first documented encounter between Te’o and Kekua occurs over Twitter when Te’o writes: “@lovalovaloveyou nice to meet u too ma’am.” According to Deadspin, all the avatars and pictures associated with Kekua’s Twitter account came from the Facebook and Instagram accounts of an unidentified 22-year-old woman from Torrance, Calif. and had been used without her knowledge. The woman and Tuiasosopo had been high school classmates.

Dec. 2011: Te’o plugs one of Tuiasosopo’s songs on Twitter. An unnamed Deadspin source claimed that the two are “family… or at least family friends” and that members of the Tuiasosopo family attended the Nov. 24, 2012 Notre Dame-USC game. Another Deadspin source stated that “there were numerous photos of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Te’o together on Tuiasosopo’s now-deleted Instagram account.”

Early 2012: The timing on the beginning of Te’o’s relationship with Kekua is murky. It was widely reported that they started as friends and then began dating sometime in early 2012. Shortly thereafter (Apr. 28, 2012, per Sports Illustrated, which, like time.com, is owned by Time Warner), Kekua was allegedly hospitalized following a serious car accident. The stories published by SI, ESPN and the South Bend Tribune do not mention a source for the information regarding the car accident.

June 2012: Kekua is allegedly diagnosed with leukemia while in the hospital recovering from her car accident. The October article in the South Bend Tribune quotes Brian Te’o, Manti’s father, saying that Kekua would need a bone marrow transplant.

Sept. 11, 2012: Te’o’s grandmother, Annette Santiago, dies, just one day after Kekua was supposedly released from the hospital. The South Bend Tribune reports that Brian Te’o spoke with Kekua after her release.

Sept. 12, 2012: Kekua’s older brother, Koa, informs Te’o of Lennay’s passing over the phone. The Sports Illustrated cover story (“The Full Manti”) does not provide a source for the phone call.

Sept. 15, 2012: Te’o leads the Irish to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State, finishing the game with 12 tackles. A week later, on the day of Kekua’s alleged funeral service, he intercepts two passes and helps Notre Dame defeat Michigan 13-6, becoming an instant media sensation. Later, Te’o says: “White is her favorite color. So she just wanted some white roses and that’s all she asked for. So I sent her roses and sent her two picks (interceptions) along with that, so that was good.”

Nov. 4, 2012: The Twitter account of U’ilani Rae Kekua, Lennay’s alleged sister, goes live. Te’o immediately tweeted to his followers suggesting they follow her and, according to Deadspin, wished her a Happy Thanksgiving on Nov. 22. Both of Te’o’s tweets have subsequently been deleted.

Nov. 7, 2012: Te’o tweets at Kekua’s Twitter account to say he misses her.

Nov. 10, 2012: U’ilani tweets: “I miss you @LennayKay our dinner for Daddy today was beautiful & it hit me hard that you weren’t at the table. Rest easy lala, love you sis.” According to Deadspin, shortly after allegations from two Twitter accounts that U’ilani was a fraud, the account was deleted. The Twitter accounts further alleged that the images of “U’ilani” were actually those of Donna Tei (whose profile contains numerous pictures of herself with one of Tuiasosopo’s since-deceased cousins).

Nov. 17, 2012: Notre Dame’s Senior Day and matchup with Wake Forest. According to multiple stories published in October and early November of last year, Brian Te’o said that the other members of the Te’o family had never met Kekua and were slated to spend time with her over that weekend.

Dec. 2012: According to Deadspin, Tuiasosopo requested a picture from his former classmate—the unidentified 22-year-old Torrance, Calif. woman—that was subsequently posted on Lennay’s Twitter account. When the woman discovered the account and the accompanying picture and called Tuiasosopo to request an explanation, he immediately removed the picture.

Dec. 6, 2012: According to Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, Te’o was at the ESPN Awards in Orlando, Fla. when he receives a call from the number he knew to belong to Kekua and recognized the woman’s voice on the other end as hers. The woman says she is not dead.

Dec. 8, 2012: Te’o is named the first runner-up for the Heisman Trophy, losing to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Dec. 10, 2012: The Los Angeles Times publishes a story about Te’o’s Heisman candidacy. According to the article, a day earlier on Dec. 9, Te’o said that Kekau “made me promise, when [she died], that I would stay and play.” The quote came three days after Swarbrick says Te’o learned about the hoax.

Dec. 26, 2012: Te’o reaches out to Notre Dame coaches to inform them of the hoax, in which he claimed no part. The next day, Te’o met with ND athletic director Jack Swarbrick to explain his side of the story. The two met again the next day and shortly thereafter, the University launched an independent invesitagation into the hoax.

Jan. 7, 2013: Notre Dame is soundly defeated by Alabama 42-14 in the BCS National Championship. Te’o’s performance in the game was widely criticized for failing to live up to the lofty expectations his regular season play had inspired.

Jan. 16, 2013: Deadspin publishes its story, “Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking and Inspirational Story of the College Football Seaxon, Is a Hoax.” Notre Dame and Te’o subsequently release press statements confirming their knowledge of the hoax but denying any complicity. Swarbrick holds a 40-minute press conference in which he states the University’s support for Te’o and characterizes the star linebacker as a victim.