How I catfished Manti Te’o — and changed our lives forever

Speaking publicly for the first time in nearly a decade about the catfishing scandal she perpetrated on Manti Te’o, the former Ronaiah Tuiasosopo explained the details of how she was able to pull off the elaborate hoax.

Tuiasosopo, who’s now a transgender woman going by Naya, used photos of Diane O’Meara to create Lennay Kekua, the online girlfriend of Te’o’s who was said to have died during the 2012 Notre Dame football season. Though most of the photos she used were taken from O’Meara’s social media without her knowledge, one of them — a picture of O’Meara holding up a combination of letters and numbers — was taken at her request. Tuiasosopo told O’Meara, a high school classmate, that the photo was for a cousin who got in a car accident.

Naya Tuiasosopo in Netflix's
Naya Tuiasosopo in Netflix’s “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.”
Diane O'Meara on the
Diane O’Meara on the “Today” show on Jan. 23, 2013, saying that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo used pictures of her without her knowledge in creating a fake woman named Lennay Kekua.

“As horrible as it felt to do that, it was kind of a relief knowing that I was able to validate, still, a girl that wasn’t even real,” Tuiasosopo said in the Netflix documentary “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.”

Tuiasosopo told Dr. Phil in an interview at the time that she was in love with Te’o.

“As twisted and confusing as it may be, I cared for this person,” she said in the interview, which is played in the documentary. “I did all that I can to help this person become a better person. It’s very painful to even talk about but the truth of it is that happened. I grew feelings. I grew emotions that sooner or later, I couldn’t control anymore.”

Manti Te'o with Notre Dame in 2012.
Manti Te’o with Notre Dame in 2012.
Getty Images
Manti Te'o in Netflix's
Manti Te’o in Netflix’s “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.”

Tuiasosopo did not have any help, even in playing different voices on the phone with Te’o.

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