Ronaiah Tuiasosopo fell in love with Manti Te’o and said all his energy went into pretending to be the woman the Notre Dame linebacker came to know as Lennay Kekua.
Tuiasosopo, the 22-year-old mastermind of the hoax that embarrassed Te’o and left him looking gullible, spoke publicly for the first time in an interview with Dr. Phil McGraw for the Dr. Phil Show, the first part of which aired Thursday.
Tuiasosopo said Te’o knew nothing of the scam and doesn’t believe he ever suspected Kekua was fake.
He had no involvement, Tuiasosopo said. He did not know anything.
Tuiasosopo said he built the online persona of Kekua, a nonexistent woman who Te’o said he fell in love with despite never meeting in person. Tuiasosopo then killed off the character in September.
I pretty much had this escape of Lennay and this was where my heart had pretty much invested, not just time, but all of my energy went into this, Tuiasosopo said.
He said he felt Kekua was a part of him, and grew feelings and emotions for Te’o that he could not control. He acknowledged that the hoax was cruel but said it was never intended as a joke and that he got no financial gain from it.
As twisted and confusing as it may be, yeah, I cared for this person, he said, referring to Te’o. I did all that I could to help this person become a better person, even though I wasn’t getting nothing out of it.
Through a spokesman, the Te’o family declined to comment.
Tuisasosopo said he decided to confess to Te’o last month as the hoax was unraveling because he felt he could not go any further until the truth was out.
You’ve heard of recovering drug addicts? It takes a lot of courage to stand and say that, he said To recover from homosexuality and this type of thing. Not only that, coming back to your real life, as hard as a task as that is I’m going to do all that I can to live right.
McGraw said that statement bothered him. I hope it’s a pressure you don’t put on yourself, he said.
Tuiasosopo said he killed the Kekua character on the day Te’o learned his grandmother died, following an argument with the football star. Te’o had told Kekua he didn’t need her, Tuiasosopo said.
It hurt me, he said. I was like, Whoa, I’ve given so much into this.’ And I realized right then in that moment, that I poured so much into Lennay, that I myself was getting nothing, and look what I was left with.
Tuiasosopo said he was the voice of Kekua but initially refused to re-create it when pressed by McGraw. He eventually agreed to do the voice behind a privacy screen, something McGraw promised to show during Part 2 today.