Lennay Kekua may not actually exist, but that doesn't mean that Manti Te'o was the first person to be in a relationship with her.
Not only did NFL player Reagan Maui'a claim to have met her in June 2011 and tell ESPN that the pair became "good friends," but at least one other person may have been duped into a relationship.
Two people spoke with ESPN and said that their cousin had also been tricked into an online relationship with Kekua in 2008. According to an article published in the South Bend Tribune in October 2012, Te'o first encountered -- although the nature of this meeting remains one of the unanswered questions in this bizarre tale -- Kekua in November 2009 in Palo Alto, Calif. after a Notre Dame-Stanford game. The story of Kekua passing away during the 2012 season on the same day as Te'o's grandmother became national news as the Irish rolled to an undefeated regular season and he emerged as a Heisman candidate.
"When I found out about the Samoan football player (and) his girlfriend, his Grandma died the same day, I was like, 'Whoa this is crazy,' I feel so bad for him, so I just looked him up," J.R. Vaosa told ESPN's "Outside The Lines." "I found out his girlfriend's name was Lennay Kekua. And right when I read the name Lennay Kekua, I immediately thought of Ronaiah. Then I thought of my cousin -- that this has to be the same person."
Vaosa's cousin who was allegedly victimized opted not to speak to ESPN. However, Vaosa and another cousin, Celeste Tuioti-Mariner, both did and both stated that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, who Deadspin revealed as the lead architect of the hoax, was also behind the deception that fooled their cousin. Tuioti-Mariner told ESPN that she tried to contact Te'o via Twitter to warn him but was unsuccessful.
"We were very suspicious when it was 2008 but we actually got it down to the point that it was exactly Ronaiah in December, around December, Tuioti-Mariner told ESPN. "I even tried to reach out to Manti, actually, through Twitter. But he actually blocked me so I couldn't reach out to him. I believe Manti was a victim of a hoax."
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In the immediate aftermath of the Deadspin report by Jack Dickey and Timothy Burke, Te'o and Notre Dame both issued statements indicating that the Heisman finalist had been a victim rather than a participant in this hoax.
"I don't want to confuse this at all," Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said during a subsequent press conference held on Wednesday night. "Manti Te'o was the victim of this scam."
Despite the initial statement released by Te'o and public comments of Swarbrick, the linebacker's role remains a key question. Swarbrick indicated that Te'o claimed to have learned that he was being conned on Dec. 6, yet he continued to perpetuate the heartrending narrative that his girlfriend had died during the season.
"Nothing about this story has been comprehensible, or logical, and that extends to what happens next," CBS Sports columnist Gregg Doyell wrote on Wednesday after Swarbrick's press conference. "I cannot comprehend Manti Te'o saying anything that could make me believe he was a victim."
Perhaps the only person who can clear this up is Te'o, who had yet to speak publicly as of Friday. Speaking during a podcast appearance, Swarbrick indicated that Notre Dame has encouraged Te'o to break his silence.
"It is in the Te'o family's court," Swarbrick said. "We are very much encouraging them. I hope by the time people are listening to this they have made themselves available to explain and to take questions, because we think that's in everybody's interest. It's certainly our expectation at Notre Dame that they would do that."