On Sunday, Sept. 23, I sat down with Manti Te'o for a story that was due two hours after the interview concluded and would appear on SI's cover later that week. The detail he provided me about Lennay Kekua, who he said had died 10 days earlier -- six hours after his grandmother passed away -- was staggering. He said that they met through his cousin nearly four years ago and started "dating" on Oct. 15, 2011. Te'o told me she graduated from Stanford, lived in Carson, Calif., had family roots in Hawaii and helped take over part of her dad's job in the construction business, though her passion was to work with children and she'd traveled as far as New Zealand to do so. He said she got hit by a drunk driver on April 28, 2012, discovered that she had leukemia while recovering, and received her cancer treatment at St. Jude Medical Center in Fullerton, Calif. He never specified that he'd met her in person, and I didn't ask. Why would you ask someone if he'd actually met his girlfriend who recently died?
Last night I went through about six hours of interviews from the five days I spent at Notre Dame reporting the Te'o story. Father Paul Doyle, the rector of Dillon Hall, where Te'o lived for three years, told me, "I think I had met the girlfriend. I think she had been here visiting the year before." (He gave Te'o a prayer card that said the men of Dillon Hall were praying for his loss.) Coach Brian Kelly, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and teammates such as Theo Riddick, Robby Toma and Cierre Wood described in painstaking detail Te'o's emotions on the day he got the call in the locker room that Kekua had died. I was told by teammates and coaches that Te'o had been on the phone with her while getting his ankles taped and for weeks after her death he stayed in close communication with her supposed family.
Before I went to campus, I had conducted lengthy interviews with Brian Te'o, Manti's dad, and Dalton Hilliard, a close friend from Punahou High in Honolulu who played at UCLA. Both said they were in frequent communication with Kekua; Brian Te'o told me he had received a condolence text from her after his mother died. They also spoke on the phone at length, as he did with Lennay's brothers after her "death." Hilliard said he received frequent texts and tweets from her.