College footballer's heartbreaking tale a hoax
The inspiring, tear-jerking story of a North American college footballer and the tragic death of his girlfriend is a hoax.
The question now is who perpetrated it?
Manti Te'o, a Mormon linebacker from Indiana's Notre Dame University, is at the centre of the elaborate tale that is sprinkled with tragedy.
The story goes back to the northern autumn when, according to Sports Illustrated, over six hours on September 11
Te'o found out his grandmother had died, followed by the death of his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua from leukemia.
Just days later Te'o played through the grief, inspiring his team to a 20-3 victory over Michigan State.
It became one of the biggest stories of the college football season.
But according to sports news site Deadspin, it's a hoax.
As the story went, Te'o and the 22-year-old Kekua met online.
Subsequently Kekua was in a serious car accident in California and had then been diagnosed with leukemia.
Sports Illustrated relayed his story, telling how Te'o would phone Kekua in her hospital bed, and stay on the line as she slept through the night.
Author of the Sports Illustrated article, Pete Thamel, said Kekua's family told Te'o that when she was fighting to come out of a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice.
The story struck a chord with the community, with many people starting up charity funds, and putting money into foundations dedicated to leukemia research.
According to Deadspin, one raised $3000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
CBS's This Morning show even ran a three-minute story about Te'o's loss, with a direct quote from Kekua: "Babe, if anything happens to me, you promise that you'll stay there and you'll play and you'll honour me through the way you play."
It is true Te'o lost his grandmother on September 11, at age 72. But there is no record of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua - nor was there a record of her car accident.
There was also no record of Kekua at Stanford University, where she allegedly attended.
The photographs of her were reportedly taken from another 22-year-old California woman, who said she had never met Manti Te'o.
Lennay Marie Kekua never existed.
The photo used to front Kekua's Twitter acocunt was allegedly lifted from Facebook, and the woman said she was horrified she had become the face of a dead woman.
Deadspin reported the person behind Te'o's fake online girlfriend was Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, one of Te'o's family friends.
Tuiasosopo apparently created Kekua while Te'o had initiated several online contacts with her.
A friend of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin he was certain Te'o was in on it, and fabricated the relationship and death with publicity in mind.
But Notre Dame coaches were told by Te'o and his parents he was a victim of the hoax.
A statement from university spokesperson Dennis Brown says Te'o was conspired against.
"The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax," Brown said.
"While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."
ESPN has published a statement from Te'o saying how embarrassing the situation was for him.
"Over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," the statement said.
"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 realise that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."
He said it was hurtful that the grief he went through with his grandmother's death was deepened by thinking he suffered another loss.
Te'o said he was grateful for the support he had from friends, family, and Notre Dame fans, but still felt "sick" he shared private details about his relationship.
"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," the statement said.
Despite the experience, he said he was looking forward to focusing on the coming football season.