A story that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's girlfriend had died of leukemia - a loss he said inspired him to help lead the Irish to the BCS championship game - was dismissed by the university Wednesday night as a hoax perpetrated against the linebacker.
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said his faith in Te'o has not been shaken "one iota," during a 45-minute news conference on campus Wednesday night. "Nothing about what I have learned has shaken my faith in Manti Te'o whatsoever," Swarbrick said.
Swarbrick said an investigation by an independent firm the school hired convinced him that Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose death was then faked by the perpetrators of the hoax.
The university issued a news release Wednesday after Deadspin.com reported it could find no record that the woman, Lennay Kekua, ever existed.
The university said Te'o told Notre Dame coaches he had been the victim of a hoax on December 26, after talking to his parents over Christmas break. 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 in September.
Te'o said he would spend hours on the phone talking to Kekua before her supposed death. In the news conference, Swarbrick said Te'o told him he received a call from the same phone number in early December, and the voice on the other end was the same woman Te'o said claimed to be Kekua. Te'o said the woman told him of the hoax, then tried to rekindle their relationship. Swarbrick said Te'o quit responding to her calls.
The university said "the proper authorities" are investigating a "very cruel deception."
During the news conference, Swarbrick referenced internet messages between several people apparently connected to the hoax.
Following Notre Dame's backing of Te'o's version of events, one of the Deadspin.com story's authors, Timothy Burke, was non-committal regarding Te'o's role in the hoax when interviewed by NBC.
Although the majority of internet comments have been negative toward Te'o, many posters perceiving he was a party to the hoax to gain attention, people in his hometown of Laie, Hawaii are supportive.
Calvin Kealoha said, "Something's wrong over there. And he's a good kid. And we know he'd never do anything like that."
Kela Miller said, "We just want others to know that we know Manti. We know he wouldn't do that. But whatever comes of this, we still love Manti."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.