The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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January 17, 2013

Hawaii hometown backs Te'o after girlfriend hoax

LAIE, Hawaii — People in the small Hawaii hometown of Manti Te’o are offering support for the Notre Dame linebacker, after the story of his girlfriend and her death from leukemia were revealed as a hoax.

No one answered the door Wednesday evening and no one appeared to be inside the modest, single-story wood home of Te’o’s parents, Brian and Ottilia Te’o, in the small coastal town of Laie on Oahu’s northern shore where Manti Te’o, an All-American and Heisman Trophy finalist, was born.

But members of the mostly Mormon community said they were dumbfounded, and didn’t believe he would have knowingly perpetrated such a story. The town of about 6,000 people, roughly an hour’s drive from Honolulu, is home to a small Hawaii satellite campus of Brigham Young University.

Lokelani Kaiahua, 42, said Te’o’s parents were her classmates, and she knew them to have strong family values they instilled in their children.

“I just don’t see something like that being made up from him or having any part of that because they’re not those kind of people,” she said while sitting and talking with friends a few doors down from the Te’o family home. “Everybody’s kind of like ‘what is going on?”’

According to media accounts that surrounded Te’o this season, his purported girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died of leukemia in September. But on Wednesday, the website Deadspin.com posted a lengthy story saying there was no evidence that she ever existed.

Notre Dame officials then confirmed the hoax but were insistent that Te’o was only the victim.

Te’o is a hero and role model to many children in Laie and nearby small towns like Hauula, Kaaawa and Kahuku along the two-lane highway snaking through Oahu’s northeastern coast.

Students at Hauula Elementary often wear Notre Dame jerseys with his number “5” on them. Te’o has returned to the area to talk to students about the importance of staying in school, said school administrator at a nearby high school, Makala Paakaula, 38.

“He always keeps giving back to his community,” Paakaula said.

Te’o should be lauded for uniting Notre Dame during his senior year when he could have left for the NFL, she said.

“It’s amazing how he brought together the whole school to become one ohana, one family, where they all belonged, where they all had a purpose,” Paakaula said.

Many people expressed anger toward whoever was behind the entire affair.

“If he got hoaxed, that’s not his fault – shame on them,” Paakaula said, “because he has a very trusting, open heart.”

 

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