SOUTH BEND, Ind. - People in the small Hawaii hometown of Manti 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 and no one appeared to be inside the modest, single-story wood home of Te'o's parents, Brian and Ottilia Te'o, in the small coastal town of Laie on Oahu's northern shore where Manti Te'o, an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist, 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. The town of about 6,000 people, roughly an hour's drive from Honolulu, is home to a small satellite campus of Hawaii's Brigham Young University,
Lokelani Kaiahua said Te'o's parents were her classmates, and she knew them to have strong family values they instilled in their children.
"I just don't see something like that being made up from him or having any part of that because they're not those kind of people," she said while sitting and talking with friends a few doors down from the Te'o family home. "Everybody's kind of like `what is going on?"'
According to media accounts that surrounded Te'o this season, his purported girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of Leukemia in September. But on Wednesday, the website Deadspin.com posted a lengthy story saying there was no evidence that she ever existed.
Notre Dame officials then confirmed the hoax but were insistent that Te'o was only the victim.
"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.
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 months after her alleged death.
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."
Te'o is a hero and role model to many children in Laie and nearby small towns like Haaula, Kaaawa and Kahuku along the two-lane highway snaking through Oahu's northeastern coast.
Students at Haaula often wear Notre Dame jerseys with his number "5" on them, and Te'o has returned to the area to talk to students about the importance of staying in school, said school administrator Makala Paakaula, 38.
"He always keeps giving back to his community," Paakaula said.
Te'o should be lauded for uniting Notre Dame during his senior year when he could have left for the NFL, she said.
"It's amazing how he brought together the whole school to become one ohana, one family, where they all belonged, where they all had a purpose," Paakaula said.
Many residents expressed anger toward whoever was behind the entire affair.
"If he got hoaxed, that's not his fault -- shame on them," Paakaula said, "because he has a very trusting, open heart."
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