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Jan 16, 2013 6:09 PM by cbssports.com

Manti Te'o girlfriend's death a hoax

SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame says a story about Manti Te'o's girlfriend dying, which he said inspired him to play better as he helped the Fighting Irish get to the BCS title game, turned out to be a hoax apparently perpetrated against the linebacker.

The university issued a news release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record of Lennay Kekua existing.

The university says that Notre Dame coaches were informed by Te'o and his parents on Dec. 26 that Te'o had been the victim of what appeared to be a hoax. Someone using a fictitious name "apparently ingratiated herself" with Te'o, the school said, then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had died of leukemia.

The university said "the proper authorities" are investigating a "very cruel deception."

Te'o issued a statement Tuesday afternoon:

"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. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. "To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. "It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. "I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. "In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. 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. "Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft."

Te'o is currently training in preparation for the NFL draft at the IMG Institute in Bradenton, Fla. He is No. 8 on Mel Kiper's latest draft board.

Kekua does not have a death certificate, Deadspin.com reported. Stanford, where she reportedly went to school, has no record of anybody by that name.

According to Deadspin, the only photos that have been found online that identified Kekua, are actually pictures of another 22-year-old woman. That woman, who was not named in the report, told Deadspin one of those photos likely was shared by her former high school classmate named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo.

Friends and relatives of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin they believe he created Lennay Kekua.

According to the Deadspin report, Te'o and Tuiasosopo have been in contact via Twitter, including exchanging several friendly messages last summer. A Notre Dame source told ESPN that Te'o was vetted heavily when the school learned in December that Kekua was a hoax, and said he believes Te'o was not involved. But a friend of Tuiasosopo told Deadspin he was quote "80 percent sure" that Te'o participated and did so with publicity in mind.

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