People in the small Hawaii hometown of Manti Te’o stood firmly behind the Notre Dame linebacker after the story of his girlfriend and her death from leukemia were revealed as a hoax.
For the second day today, no one answered the door at the modest, single-story wood home of Te’o’s parents, 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. Brian and Ottilia Te’o, did not appear to be inside.
Members of the mostly Mormon community said they were dumbfounded and didn’t believe Manti Te’o 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.
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 often returned to the area to talk to speak to students.
The father of another high-achieving athlete who lives in the area said he felt for Te’o’s parents, and for Te’o himself.
“Of course you’re going to love them no matter what and support them. There are times when you fall down, but you get to rebound. And that’s where Manti personally needs our support, probably,” said Benny Kai, a Kahuku resident and father of former U.S. Olympic soccer player Natasha Kai. “I support him in everything he does.”
Makala Paakaula, 38, a high school administrator, 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.
Phi Smotherman, 46, said people in Laie are sorry a guy like Manti became a victim of hoax. He said the town should throw a parade for him when he comes home in recognition of his career at Notre Dame and all the awards he received.
“I hope he does great, goes to the NFL and finds a real girlfriend that he can marry and actually touch,” Smotherman said.