Until last week, Diane O'Meara didn’t even know who Manti Te’o was.
“It’s very bizarre, and it’s a very twisted and confusing scenario,’’ O’Meara told NBC’s Miguel Almaguer in a segment that aired on TODAY Tuesday. “I’ve never met Manti Te’o in my entire life. I’ve never spoken with him. I’ve never exchanged words, tweets (with him).’’
O’Meara, 23, was pulled into the vortex of a story that broke when Deadspin.com revealed last week that Lennay Kekua, the alleged girlfriend of the Notre Dame linebacker whose death from leukemia became part of Te’o’s inspiring story this fall, was a hoax. The photos depicting the fictional Kekua in her Twitter account turned out to be taken from the Facebook page of O’Meara, who went to high school with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the alleged perpetrator of the hoax.
Te’o told ESPN that he was the victim of an elaborate prank that began in the winter of 2009, when he answered a Facebook message from someone calling herself Lennay Kekua. Starting in April 2010, he started communicating with Kekua by phone. In June, Kekua informed him that she had leukemia, and on Sept. 12, he received a phone call from someone purporting to be her brother saying that she had died. Te'o's grandmother had also recently died, and when Te'o had a dramatic win over Michigan State on Sept. 15, the story captivated the college football world.
On Dec. 6, Te’o told ESPN he received a phone call from Kekua, saying she was not dead. He informed the school on Dec. 26 that he was the victim of a hoax and maintains that he was never involved in perpetrating the story. On Jan. 16, he said he received a phone call from Tuiasosopo, apologizing for the prank. An aspiring singer who once tried out for “The Voice,’’ Tuiasosopo went to the same high school as O’Meara and was friends on Facebook with her, but she told Almaguer the two were not close.
“The past five years, (Tuiasosopo) has literally been stalking my Facebook and stealing my photos,’’ O’Meara said. “Ronny has called and not only confessed, but he has also apologized. I don’t think there’s anything he could say to me that would fix this.’’
O’Meara claims that in December she received an odd message on Facebook from Tuisasopo, who she had not spoken to in years. He said he had a cousin involved in a car accident who had seen O’Meara’s Facebook photos and thought she was pretty, so Tuiasosopo asked if she could take a picture for his cousin. She complied, and the photo was used as part of the hoax. O’Meara was stunned when she received a phone call from the Deadspin.com reporters, who kept her identity a secret before she was eventually outed by several other media outlets.
Tuiasosopo has not responded to multiple calls for comment from NBC News. His father wrote on Facebook that “It’s my hope and prayer that we allow the truth to take its course, wherever that may lead.’’
O’Meara, a marketing executive in Los Angeles, will speak more about her story in a live interview Wednesday on TODAY.