On the campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, it seems as if everyone on Thursday was talking about a Stanford student who, it turns out, never existed.
University officials have confirmed there are no records of a student named Lennay Kekua, the alleged girlfriend of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o, in a story that broke Wednesday on a sports website DeadSpin. The story is that Te'o, a linebacker for Notre Dame, suffered a major loss in September when his grandmother and girlfriend died within six hours of each other. After suffering the deal personal tragedy, Te'o went on had a stunning season and won the sympathies of people across the country.
It turned out, however, that Kekua isn't real.
The campus newspaper, The Stanford Daily, summed up the story in a one-word headline: UNREAL.
Sports editor Miles Bennett-Smith told NBC Bay Area on Thursday morning that he can't understand how the death of Te'os girlfriend, who was supposed to have graduated Stanford, could have survived; it turns out now the girlfriend is imaginary. There is no record of the girlfriend ever attending Stanford, and he can't believe that reporters didn't find that out earlier.
"I was a little upset because if someone told me Teo's girlfriend was a Stanford student, I would have said, 'Absolutely not,' " Bennett-Smith said. "How would I not have heard about it? Tragic car accident, student who dies from leukemia. And she's Manti Te'o's girlfriend. Every time Stanford played Notre Dame I would have written an article on this."
In response to a detailed, published article about Teo's supposed California girlfriend who died of leukemia last year, University of Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick on Wednesday night said Te'o was the victim of a "very elaborate, very sophisticated hoax."
"It isn't fair to drag Reagan and Troy into this.. a lot of truths and myths need to be addressed here, and they will be at noon PST tomorrow," someone tweeted from an unverified Twitter account.
The tweet refers to Arizona Cardinals fullback Reagan Mauia who told ESPN that he and Pittsburgh Steelers star Troy Polamalu actually met the girl. Mauia told ESPN that before Te'o's relationship with Kekua, they became "good friends" and talked on and off.
Is it true? Is she real?
Throughout Te'o's season — one that ended with him placing second in Heisman trophy voting, and playing in the BCS National Championship game — the story of his sick girlfriend provided a tragic back story to his triumphs on the field.
But Swarbrick said that, based on a report from an investigative firm hired by the school, he believes Te'o was duped into an online relationship with a woman whose death was then faked by the perpetrators of the ruse.
Te'o called the situation "incredibly embarrassing."
"Over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," he said in a written statement responding to the article. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her."
"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," he wrote. "In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was."
NBC and other wire services contributed to this report.