SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's deceased Stanford-student girlfriend never existed, according to a report by Deadspin, and a Notre Dame spokesman said Te'o and his family were victims of a hoax.
"On Dec. 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te’o and his parents that Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua, apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia," said university spokesman Dennis Brown in a statement released Wednesday, about an hour after the Deadspin story broke on the Internet.
The story of the death of Te'o's girlfriend -- which Deadspin calls "The most heartbreaking and inspirational story of the college football season" -- says that Te'o learned of her death and the death of his grandmother in a span of six hours right before taking the field.
Te'o went on to lead his team to a victory against Michigan State, totaling 12 tackles despite receiving the devastating news.
Though Te'o's grandmother actually did die as reported, Deadspin reports that Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, didn't die and never even existed.
Te'o released a statement Wednesday night saying, "This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online."
Te'o went on to say he believed the relationship was authentic, but he was humiliated and hurt to find out he was the victim of "someone's sick joke and constant lies."
"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious," Te'o's statement continues. "If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was."
In a news conference Wednesday evening, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick called the hoax "sophisticated" and said it had "cruelty at its core."
"In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark because he is a guy who is so willing to believe in others," Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick said "every single thing about this (relationship) was real to Manti," until he received a phone call from his supposedly dead girlfriend Dec. 26, months after her alleged death.
Swarbrick said that phone call was the first thing to raise suspicions with Te'o, and an investigation was subsequently launched.
Hawaii hometown backs Te'o after girlfriend hoax
People in the small Hawaii hometown of Te'o are offering support for the Notre Dame linebacker after the story of his girlfriend and her death from Leukemia were revealed as a hoax.
No one answered the door Wednesday evening at Te'o's parents' home in the small coastal town of Laie on Oahu's northern shore where Te'o was born.
But members of the mostly Mormon community said they were dumbfounded, and didn't believe he would have knowingly perpetrated such a story.
Neighbor Katherine Lindsay, a retiree sitting in front of her home talking with friends, says she knows how people are raised in the community, and she could not go along with the idea that Te'o could be involved in the deception.
Notre Dame officials confirmed that the story was a hoax, but have insisted that Te'o was the victim.