The man who co-authored the widely viewed story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and his girlfriend, who everyone was led to believe died of cancer, was like most -- he believed that Lanny Kekua was a real girl who died a tragic death.
That is until this past Friday when his website Deadspin.com got an anonymous tip.
"This one just said, ‘hey you should check out Lannay Kekua, Manti Te'o's girlfriend. It seems like something weird about her,' and it went from there," said Tim Burke, assignment editor with Deadspin.
That's when Burke and co-author Jack Dickey started digging, and what they found has shocked many: the 22 year old many knew as Lanny Kekua did not exist.
Her life, and widely reported death from leukemia, were all a hoax. Notre Dame officials say we should feel sorry for the All American linebacker.
"Manti is the victim of that hoax and he will carry that with him for a while," said Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick.
But Burke, who makes his home in St. Petersburg, isn't so sure that's the case. He says a source told him Te'o was likely in on the scheme, and not an innocent victim.
"To con Manti Te'o over the course of a year with these extraordinary, extravagant, extravagant pranks -- the extent of this hoax as its been described to us by Manti Te'o, it would take over this guy's life," Burke said. "What's in it for him? What does he get out of it?"
He says it's clear what Te'o, a Heisman trophy runner-up, would get.
"Say he was in on the con. We know what he would be guaranteed, you know, all the fame and attention from the dead girlfriend that boosted his national profile," said Burke. "There's an incentive for one person to be involved and there's no incentive for the other person to be involved. Figure out your probability there."
Te'o has released a statement saying he was duped, he but has not gone before the cameras -- yet.
As for Burke, he's less interested in his new found fame and more concerned with what this bizarre story should teach journalists.
"Hopefully this issue leads us to be more critical in our reporting as journalists that we will ask the questions and do the research to prove somebody exists," said Burke.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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