The father of the man publicly named as the one behind a hoax involving Notre Dame star linebacker Manti Te’o became emotional Sunday as he thanked his Antelope Valley congregation for their support.
The group of about 90 people clapped and cheered when Pastor Titus Tuiasosopo was introduced during Oasis Christian Church’s Sunday service — the first since news of the scandal broke.
“I want to thank you for your prayers, church family,” Tuiasosopo said at the end of the two-hour service, his voice breaking. “I love you. Thank you for being here.”
Earlier in the service, held at Lancaster United Methodist Church, Tuiasosopo acknowledged the half a dozen reporters who were in attendance, but declined to discuss details of the incident afterward.
“My statement is: God is still on his throne,” he said before a guest pastor delivered the sermon.
Reporters have swarmed both the church and Tuiasosopo’s Palmdale home after his son, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, was named as a perpetrator of the Te’o hoax, revealed last week in a Deadspin.com report.
According to the report, Tuiasosopo allegedly was involved in creating a Twitter account for a “Lennay Kekua” and connecting her with Te’o. The Heisman Trophy-runner up spoke to the media repeatedly about his girlfriend and her supposed battle with cancer.
After more than a year of corresponding on social media and by telephone with Kekua, Te’o said he was told in September the woman had died of leukemia. Three months later, the player got a call from a phone number he recognized as Kekua’s with the voice on the other end telling him Kekua wasn’t dead.
On Dec. 26, Te’o told Notre Dame officials he had learned his girlfriend did not exist, the university said.
In an interview with ESPN, Te’o denied a role in the ruse. “I wasn’t faking it,” he said. “I wasn’t part of this.”
Te’o also identified Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a former high school football and volleyball star, as the person behind the bizarre hoax.
Te’o told ESPN he met Tuiasosopo for the first time on Nov. 24, after Notre Dame beat USC at the Coliseum.
“I hope he learns,” Te’o told ESPN. “I hope he understands what he’s done. I don’t wish an ill thing to somebody. I just hope he learns. I think embarrassment is big enough.”
Titus Tuiasosopo’s brother, former pro football player Peter “Navy” Tuiasosopo, said his family had obtained legal counsel and were organizing some sort of formal interview regarding the allegations.
“The family is strong,” Tuiasosopo told reporters in the church parking lot after Sunday’s service. “The family will stay together.”
Tuiasosopo said his family continues to support his nephew.
“I don’t know how he feels,” he said in response to a question about Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. “He doesn’t feel his best.”