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Te’o says he wasn’t involved in hoax

NEW YORK, Jan. 24 (UPI) — Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o told U.S. interviewer Katie Couric he didn’t create the hoax involving a phony online girlfriend who supposedly died of cancer.

Te’o, 21, maintained he had been tricked into believing Lennay Kekua, the online and phone girlfriend he never met in person, died in September. He said he didn’t doubt her existence until she called him in December saying she was alive.

In an interview which aired Thursday on “Katie,” Couric asked him if he had “any involvement in creating the scam,” to which Te’o replied, “No, I did not.”

“I think what people don’t realize is the same day everybody else found out about this situation, I found out,” he said. “I didn’t know it was just somebody’s prank.”

Te’o also admitted he lied to the media about how he met Kekua, adding, “For people feeling that they were misled, that I’m sorry for.”

“I wasn’t as forthcoming about it, but I didn’t lie. I never was asked, ‘Did I meet her in person?’ Through the embarrassment and the fear of what people would think about me being committed to this person I didn’t have a chance to meet, and she all of a sudden died, that scared me. And to avoid any further conversation, I wasn’t as forthcoming as I should have been,” he said.

Pressed to comment on how the story made him a sympathetic figure to fans and in the media, Te’o said: “The only thing I basked in is that now I had an impact on people; that people turned to me for inspiration. I think that was the only thing I focused on. My story, I felt, was — a guy in times of hardship and times of trial, really held strong to his faith… and family. I thought that was my story.”

Even if that hardship was exaggerated? Couric wanted to know.

“What I went through was real,” Te’o said. “The feelings, the pain, the sorrow — that was all real. That was something I can’t fake.”

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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