Pete Thamel of Sports Illustrated conducted one of the original reports on the Manti Te'o girlfriend story. On Thursday, he recounted the interview discussing the death of Lennay Kekua, and provided a thorough transcript of his interview with Te'o.
Te'o definitely was thorough in talking about Kekua and his relationship with her. He provided Thamel with plenty of interesting and emotional quotes about Kekua, how they met, how they dealt with each other, how they handled a long-distance relationship, her life outside of their relationship and, of course, her death. Te'o's thoroughness and descriptiveness seemed to give credence to the existence of a girlfriend no one had ever really met.
TE'O: Lennay was so special. Her relationship with the heavenly father was so strong. She's so humble, hard working. And her main thing was her family. Her family was everything to her. As long as she took care of her family. And as long as she knew that her relationship with our heavenly father was strong, she had faith that everyone would work out. With her it was just always loving God and her family. I was just blessed to be part of that.
Although the story sounded convincing and genuine based on the way players talked about him, Thamel noticed some things early that probably should have made him think twice about running the story. Thamel did try to track down Kekua but had very little luck in finding any records of her at Stanford. Additionally, Te'o stuttered several times in the interview (even in the transcript), so there were early indicators of nervousness there.
Instead of deciding to hold off on the story and try to find out more about Kekua, Thamel went ahead and published it without actually verifying the identity of Kekua. Who knows what would have happened if Thamel had fact-checked a little bit more thoroughly?
There is also this bizarre little detail.
TE'O: She didn't get out. She went from there. Remember she got in the accident and she was in a coma. We lost her, actually, twice. She flatlined twice. They revived her twice. It was just a trippy situation. It was a day I was flying home from South Bend to go home for summer break. It was May. Mid-May. That was the day where they said, "Bro, we're going to pull it. We're going to pull the plug." I remember having this feeling like everything is going to be OK. They were telling me, "Say your goodbyes." From April 28 to around mid-May, I was always talking to my girlfriend who was on a machine.
So whoever was in on the hoax tried to kill his fake girlfriend several months before the season ended, but then had second thoughts and decided to wait until Te'o's grandmother died during the season to run ahead with it.