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Manti Te'o: What we learned from his Katie Couric interview

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Manti Te'o is at the centre of one of the most bizarre news stories for a while, after it emerged that his girlfriend - who had apparently died on the same day as his grandmother - had actually never existed and was the invention of a hoaxer.

Te'o - who has already spoken out about the situation - appeared on Katie yesterday to give us his side of the story. Read on to find out what we learned about his relationship with 'Lennay', alleged hoaxer Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and how this could have happened:

Manti Te'o

© PA Images / David J. Phillip/AP



Manti had no involvement with the hoax: Asked by Katie Couric if Manti had been in on the hoax, he insisted that he had no idea. "I think what people don't realise is that the same day that everybody else found out about this situation, I found out," he said.

Ronaiah apologised to Manti in a Twitter direct message: In the message, Ronaiah (who Manti believed was Lennay's cousin) apologised for the "pain" he had caused - and he later called Manti on the phone to say sorry. But Manti said Ronaiah didn't really explain why he'd carried out the hoax: "He just explained that he just wanted to help people and that was his way of helping people - being someone that he wasn't and trying to connect with somebody on a different level and help them out."

Manti was scared what people would think if he admitted he hadn't met Lennay in person: That's why he led a Sports Illustrated reporter to believe that he'd met up with her, although he insisted that he never outright lied. "Through the embarrassment and the fear of what people may think, that I was committed to this person who I didn't have the chance to meet and she all of a sudden died, that scared me and so to avoid any further conversation I kind of wasn't as forthcoming as I should have been."



But he did lie to one person: While some of Manti's friends knew he'd never met Lennay, he confessed that he felt terrible about lying to his father when he told him that he had met Lennay. He explained that he just wanted to get his dad's approval of the relationship: "I knew that if he knew that I didn't meet her, he would just say, 'No, red flag'. A red flag that I obviously should have seen. I didn't." Manti added that he felt bad that it meant his father had ended up misleading the press but felt like he was in too deep: "I felt overwhelmed a lot by this whole circus of events."

Manti doesn't believe he misled people with his story: After all, he points out that he genuinely did believe his girlfriend had died: "What I went through was real - the feelings, the pain, the sorrow - that was all real and that's something that I can't fake." Asked if he enjoyed the attention he received, Manti acknowledged that he liked being someone who had an impact on people, and who inspired others. He described his story as being about someone who clung to his faith and family in hard times.

People had confirmed to Manti that Lennay was real: Manti asked a friend on Facebook if Lennay really existed after their friendship grew, and was told that she did. "That was my way of saying, 'Okay, she's real, they've met her, they've seen her, so this girl who's in the pictures and this girl I'm talking to must be the same."



Manti had tried to meet and talk to Lennay: Manti explained that on several occasions he had tried to meet up with Lennay, but she always came up with an excuse. "She'd give me good reasons, too - she'd say. 'Oh, my brothers have my car' or, 'I'm in the hospital'. I wasn't going to tell a person who just came out of a coma, 'You need to come and see me right now'," he explained. And he admitted that he never questioned why he couldn't see Lennay on Facetime: "I said, 'I don't know what's wrong with your camera' - I wasn't paying attention, I guess."

Manti truly believed Lennay had ended up in a coma after a car accident: Lennay's 'family' would hold the phone to her ear while Manti talked to her: "I could basically hear her breathing, and every time I got on the phone her breathing would quicken, and they kept saying the nurses were wondering who was on the phone because every time that person would be on the phone that's the only time she would respond in that way." He also claimed he heard medical equipment in the background, and that Lennay 'woke up' while he was on the line and whispered his name. But Katie wanted to know why Manti didn't visit his girlfriend in the hospital - he explained that he didn't have time during his flight layover, and that he didn't want to upset his parents by missing his flight. "It doesn't make sense to me either at this point," he admitted.



Manti's phone bills do show hour-long conversations: Katie confirmed that her team had seen the bills. Manti explained that he just wanted to be there for Lennay when she needed him.

Manti had doubts when Lennay said she had been diagnosed with cancer: Manti acknowledged that it stretched his credulity when Lennay was diagnosed after being in a coma. But after his friend's mother - a cancer survivor - had spoken to Lennay and didn't suspect anything, he put his doubts behind him.

We heard voicemails from 'Lennay': Katie broadcast three voicemail messages left on Manti's phone, all apparently featuring a woman's voice. He doesn't know if Ronaiah was behind the calls: "It sounded like a woman, but if he somehow made that voice, that's incredible. It's an incredible talent to do that, especially every single day."



Manti didn't know what to believe when he was told that Lennay was still alive - despite 'dying' months earlier: Manti explained that Lennay had claimed that she'd faked her death after being chased by drug dealers, though he initially thought that it was her sister playing a trick on him. Confused about what was going on, he referred to his late girlfriend at an event two days later - and he explained that at that point, he hadn't even told his parents she might still be alive. "Part of me was saying, 'If you say she's alive, what would everybody think?'" he explained. "'What are you going to tell everybody who follows you, who you inspired - what are you going to say?' And at that time on December 8, two days after I just found out she was alive, as a 21-year-old I wasn't ready for that."

'Lennay' sent Manti a photograph to prove she was alive: Later in December, Manti received an image of Lennay with the date, her initials and a sign from his town. That's when he told his parents about what had been going on. His mum Ottilia admitted that it was a "difficult" conversation that left her in "utter shock" - as the whole family had believed Lennay was alive. As for his dad, Brian, he admitted that it took him a couple of days to process the news as he tried to figure out what was going on.



Both of Manti's parents are sticking by him: In an emotional conversation - in which Ottilia, Brian and Manti all became tearful - Manti's mum admitted that the negative media attention her son has received "hurts". "He did exactly what I would expect a responsible, respectable young man to do - to extend himself to someone who says that they lost their father, and now they have cancer," she said. "I am proud of his character." Brian, too, said he was proud of his son, adding that the whole family believed the hoax. "In retrospect, vision's 20/20, we can say the red flags all came up, but when you're in the moment it's every day," he said. "I'm proud of this guy, I really am, and nothing that has happened in the last couple of weeks is going to take that away. He's not a liar, he's a kid. He's a 21-year-old kid trying to be a man, and I love him, I really do."



But Manti feels terrible that his family have become involved in the saga: Manti admitted that the "hardest" part of the story had been seeing his family get dragged into it. "The greatest joy in any child's life is to make your parents proud - the greatest pain is to know that they're experiencing pain because of you," he said. Manti also said he'd like to tell Ronaiah how much he hurt his family but would advise him to stay close to his relatives. "When something like this happens, you see who's actually in your corner, you see who actually loves you, you see who actually has always been there, and it starts with these two sitting next to me," he said. "Kids - listen to mum and dad!"

Manti doesn't know if this will affect his career: He said he hopes and prays that his career will continue to flourish, but added: "As long as my family's okay, I can live with whatever happens."

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