SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Not once but twice after he supposedly discovered his online girlfriend of three years never existed, Notre Dame All-America linebacker Manti Te'o perpetuated the heartbreaking story about her death.
An Associated Press review of news coverage found that the Heisman Trophy runnerup talked about her in a Web interview Dec. 8 and again in a newspaper interview published Dec. 10. He and the university said Wednesday that he learned on Dec. 6 that it was all a hoax, that not only wasn't she dead, she wasn't real.
The question remains: Was Te'o really duped, as he claimed, or were he and the university complicit in the hoax and misled the public, perhaps to improve his chances of winning the Heisman.
And adding another twist, former Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Maui'a said he met the woman linked to Te'o.
Maui'a told ESPN he met Lennay Kekua in 2011 while he and some teammates were on a charity mission to American Samoa. He said this was before the woman met Te'o and that he and Kekua became "good friends."
Maui'a was through talking about the issue Thursday, saying in a tweet, "if ur calling me for a story, plz don't. I have better things to do."
On Wednesday, Te'o and Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said the player was drawn into a virtual romance and was fooled into believing the woman died of leukemia in September. They said his only contact with her was via the Internet and telephone.
Relying on information provided by Te'o's family members, the South Bend Tribune reported in October that Te'o and Kekua first met, in person, in 2009, and that the two had also gotten together in Hawaii.
Te'o never mentioned a face-to-face meeting in public comments reviewed by the AP. And an AP review of media reports about Te'o since Sept. 13 turned up no instance in which he directly confirmed or denied those stories — until Wednesday.
Te'o's agent, Tom Condon, said the athlete had no plans to make any public statements.
Notre Dame said Te'o found out that Kekau was not a real person through a phone call he received at an awards ceremony in Orlando on Dec. 6. He told Notre Dame coaches about the situation Dec. 26, nearly two weeks before the title game.
Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said the Te'o family was getting ready to go public about the hoax and that the university deferred to their wishes.
"They're the victims and it's their story to tell," he said.
Many in Te'o's hometown of Laie, about 6,000 people and roughly an hour's drive from Honolulu, were angered with the perpetrator of what they believe is a hoax. "If he got hoaxed, that's not his fault; shame on them," said Makala Paakaula, 38, a high school administrator, "because he has a very trusting, open heart."