The father of the man who allegedly duped Manti Te'o into having an online and telephone relationship with a fictitious woman thanked his church on Sunday for its support.
"I want to thank you for your prayers, church family," Pastor Titus Tuiasosopo told the congregation of Oasis Christian Church of the Antelope Valley, the Los Angeles Times reports. "I love you. Thank you for being here."
The group of about 90 people gathered for service inside Lancaster United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Calif., applauded as Tuiasosopo was introduced during the church's first Sunday service since news of the hoax went public. Several reporters were also in attendance, but Tuiasosopo declined to discuss details with them afterward and offered only a brief comment at the beginning of service before a guest pastor gave the sermon.
"My statement is: God is still on his throne," said Tuiasosopo.
Deadspin.com reported last week that Tuiasosopo's son, 22-year-old Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, was allegedly the person behind the hoax involving Te'o, the University of Notre Dame linebacker. Ronaiah allegedly created false social media accounts using the name Lennay Kekua, the fictitious woman who Te'o says he believed was a real girlfriend.
On Sept. 12, Te'o received a call from a person claiming to be Kekua's brother and was told that Kekua had passed away after a battle with leukemia, the linebacker told ESPN's Jeremy Schaap in a recent interview. He received another phone call from Kekua several months later on Dec. 6, however, leaving him "confused" and "scared" as to what had actually happened.
Later in December, after telling some friends and his parents, Te'o shared what had happened with Notre Dame coaches and officials. Jack Swarbrick, vice president and director of athletics for Notre Dame, said in a press statement last week that the university had an outside firm investigate the situation and report back with its findings. The athletic director also said the Te'o family had planned to release the story themselves, but the Deadspin story broke first.
Some have theorized that Te'o was in on the hoax and used it as a way to promote himself as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but the linebacker told ESPN that when people see the evidence "they'll know that there is no way that I could be part of this."
Though it had previously been reported that he met Kekua in person, Te'o says that was never the case. In interviews he often made it seem like he met her so people wouldn't think he was "crazy" for being in a relationship with someone he had never met. His father once told reporters that the couple had spent time together in Hawaii, though Te'o says that was a lie he told his father out of fear that his father would no longer support their relationship. Te'o also said he was simply unaware of the source of another report, which said he met Kekua at the 2009 game against Stanford University.
Te'o, a Mormon, said he did not need a physical contact with Kekua, who he believed was a Christian, because of the "spiritual aspect" of their relationship. Te'o and Kekua would stay on the phone together all night at times, even when sleeping, because Kekua said keeping him on the line helped her sleep after complications from a car accident kept her up.
"She would always tell me that. 'Manti, the only man I love more than you is – well, two men, is God and my dad: I'll never put you in front of God.' She would say stuff like that, and, we'd say prayers at night before we'd go to sleep. Then when we'd wake up in the morning, obviously, because I was on the phone, she'd say another prayer. She would always tell me to be humble. For me, that's what drew me in," said Te'o.
Te'o met Ronaiah, who allegedly said he was Kekua's cousin, face-to-face while in town for a game against the University of Southern California on Nov. 24. Ronaiah is the leader of the band at Oasis Christian Church, Deadspin reports, and performs both Christian and secular music outside of the church setting.
Ronaiah's uncle, former pro football player Peter "Navy" Tuiasosopo, says his family has obtained legal counsel regarding the situation, the Times reports.
Te'o hopes Ronaiah has learned his lesson and says "embarrassment is big enough."