A guide to the Manti Te’o hoax in 11 crazy steps [SLIDESHOW]

Either Manti Te’o got hoodwinked or he hoodwinked us all. We’re just not sure which one it is yet. Here is what we do know.

It was a tragic, heartwarming story: Talented University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o had a long-distance girlfriend who was in a bad car accident sometime in the summer of 2012.

Lennay Kekua overcame her injuries only to discover that she had fatal leukemia. According to his own account, Te’o often fell asleep listening to her breathing on the other end of the phone line while he was at school in Indiana and she was on her deathbed in at St. Jude Medical Center just outside of Los Angeles.

Then, on Sept. 10, Kekua was released from the hospital, according to an account given to the South Bend Tribune by Te’o’s father Brian. On Sept. 11, Te’o’s beloved grandmother died (for real) — and just hours later, so did Kekua (except not really because she wasn’t real).

On the day of Kekua’s supposed funeral, Te’o made a record 12 tackles to upset the University of Michigan 13-6. He did not attend the funeral because Kekua told him not to miss a game, but he did send white roses to a funeral that never happened for a dead girl that never existed.

Te’o helped Notre Dame finish out the regular season undefeated and became the Heisman Trophy runner-up.

Unfortunately, the story of a gifted player overcoming a double tragedy while becoming the undisputed best linebacker in college football was just too good to be true.

Deadspin unraveled all the details in their compelling and surreal story, but we broke it down to the tall tale’s craziest components.

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  • The Twitter account attributed to Lennay Kekua has been inactive since Sept. 12 -- until now. @LennayKay tweeted Jan. 17: "I will be releasing a statement, via twitter, between 11am and noon today." We await in anticipation. UPDATE: This Twitter account is a hoax in and of itself. This fake account is not the same account used by the fake Lennay Kekua. It did post a statement as promised, however: "This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but I have been told by Alabama's offense that #Manti Te'o is not real."
  • Here is what we do know: Lennay Kekua never existed. (The photo attributed to her by several news outlets is an anonymous woman who went to high school with Tuiasosopo.) Te'o had an online relationship with someone pretending to be Lennay Kekua. He told everyone about it, and the media picked up on his tragic and heartwarming story and ran with it all the way to the ratings bank. However, many questions remain. Was he in on it the whole time? (A friend of Tuiasosopo's told Deadspin that he was "80 percent sure" that Te'o was in on it). But why the hell would he do that? It's insane. But if he wasn't in on it, how could be possibly be so stupid? (Photo: CBS News screen grab)
  • Jan. 16, 2013: Te'o releases his own statement: ""This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about [yeah, no kidding], but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
  • Jan. 16, 2013: Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick gives a press conference after the Deadspin story breaks. Swarbrick says that Te'o came to him on Dec. 6 and told him that he had been the victim of a hoax. "It is a scam ... that follows the exact arc of this. It's perpetrated with shocking frequency, and it's just [like] this one: an initial casual engagement, a developing relationship online, a subsequent trauma—traffic accident, illness—and then, a death. Again, as hard as it is for me to get my arms around this, there's apparently some sport in doing this, and being able to do it successfully." So we are all supposed to believe that a smart, talented guy fell for an online hoax like this for a year. Weirder things have happened? But we can't exactly think of anything right now.
  • Te'o tweeted back and forth with Kekua/ Tuiasosopo for nearly a year before Tuiasosopo killed her off. The biggest question of all is whether or not Te'o was in on the hoax the entire time to gain sympathy or for the thrill of pulling off a major con. It is truly unbelievable that Te'o had never met his serious girlfriend that almost died in a car wreck but then did die of leukemia. It is equally as unbelievable that he went along with a major hoax like this and risked his reputation -- and maybe his professional career. But how can he explain the fact that he said repeatedly in interviews that he talked to Lennay on the phone until she fell asleep, or that he had visited with her in Hawaii -- or that he met her face-to-face in 2009? There are just too many lies for this to be an innocent "I got the wool pulled over my eyes and fell in love with a fake person on Twitter" story.
  • So if Lennay Kekua didn't exist, who was pretending to be her? The Deadspin story says that it is Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a family friend of Te'o's. Tuiasosopo was supposedly running Lennay's Twitter account the entire time, as well as an account belonging to nonexistent Lennay's nonexistent sister. But why? And how?
  • In October 2012, Manti's father Brian gives an interview to the South Bend Tribune and recounts his son's relationship with Lennay: "They started out as just friends. Every once in a while, she would travel to Hawaii, and that happened to be the time Manti was home, so he would meet with her there. But within the last year, they became a couple. And we came to the realization that she could be our daughter-in-law. Sadly, it won't happen now." Sorry, but how does a person that doesn't exist visit Hawaii? Did Brian never once wonder why he had never met Lennay? (Photo: Twitter/ Bleacher Report)
  • On Sept. 22, the day of Lennay's supposed funeral, Te'o makes a record 12 tackles to help Notre Dame upset Michigan. In a press conference the next week, Te'o said: That has to be the hardest thing that I've had to do so far; to be able to operate, and to be able to try to continue with my daily routine, but knowing that I just lost two women that I truly loved. That was the hardest thing. And the other hardest thing was my girlfriend's service was the day of Michigan's game. And I remember when I found out I knew when they were going to close the casket and all that stuff, and it was during walk thru. And I remember I asked Coach Diaco, "Coach, what time is it?" And he said, "It's 12:01." And that would be 9:00, 9:01, California time and 9:00 is when they closed the casket for my girlfriend, so I had a moment then. But I've never felt so strong; especially strong, and I never I could never thank the student body and the fans around the world for their all love and all their prayers and support."
  • During the summer of 2012, Lennay was "on the brink of death" after a car accident (except not really). She survived her injuries only to find out that she had leukemia. Throughout all of these ordeals, Te'o never once visits his girlfriend. Was it because he was helping make all of this up? If he wasn't fabricating this sob story, wouldn't he have tried to go visit her? And wouldn't he think it was odd that she for some reason wouldn't let him come see her? Something certainly doesn't smell right.
  • As we all know now, Te'o never met "Kekua" (because how can you meet someone who isn't real?) Deadspin points to this tweet from October 2011 as the first point of contact between Te'o and the person pretending to be Lennay Kekua. The two then had a strictly online relationship from then up until her fake, tragic death. (Photo: Twitter/ Deadspin)
  • November 28, 2009: Te'o "meets" "Lennay Kekua" after Notre Dame loses to Stanford in Palo Alto, Calif. According to the South Bend Tribune, "Their stares got pleasantly tangled, then Manti Te'o extended his hand to the stranger with a warm smile and soulful eyes." Te'o goes back to Indiana and the two begin an online friendship. (We know now that Te'o never met Kekua, and the relationship he had online was not with this person who never existed.)

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