A Torrance marketing coordinator whose photograph was used in the Manti Te'o faux girlfriend story said Wednesday she feels for the football star because she also was a victim of the apparent hoax.
Interviewed live on NBC's "Today" show, Diane O'Meara said she had never heard of the Notre Dame football star or his story about the death of his online girlfriend until reporters contacted her and said her picture was used as the face of the non-existent woman.
"I'm still trying to wrap my head around this entire confusing situation myself," O'Meara told Savannah Guthrie. "If Manti is truly innocent in this entire situation, I empathize with him because I assume we would have the same emotions - you know, frustration, you know, anger, confusion."
O'Meara, 23, found herself at the center of the nationwide story last week when news reports revealed her photograph was used on a fabricated Twitter profile for Lennay Kekua, an apparent online creation who Te'o called his girlfriend. Te'o said she died of cancer shortly before his game against Michigan State. The emotional story was reported by major news agencies and spread across the country.
When it was determined Kekua was not real and O'Meara's photo was used, O'Meara's Torrance Boulevard office swarmed with reporters wanting to find out if she was involved in the hoax or even knew Te'o.
On Tuesday in a recorded interview, O'Meara told Today that a former high school friend,
O'Meara said Wednesday she knew Tuiasosopo from Antelope Valley High School, but had spoken to him only two or three times. She had not talked to him for five years until he messaged her on Facebook, asking her to send a photograph of herself with a sign for a cousin involved in a traumatic car accident. Tuiasosopo told her he was making a photo slide show for his cousin's birthday, and provided details of the accident, including streets she knew from her hometown. She agreed.
"We are raised to be polite. We are raised to have a kind heart," O'Meara said. "He repeatedly reached out to me on Facebook and I almost felt guilty as far as not sending a photo with a sign for this photo slideshow. He went as far as sending me a photo of his cousin with head trauma, with bandages in the hospital with him. Out of the kindness of my heart, I thought I was just comforting somebody."
O'Meara called her situation "difficult and very shocking" and said she was still trying to understand it. She said she has a boyfriend of five years and it was difficult to learn her photograph was used as the face of a separate relationship.
Although she has hired a lawyer, O'Meara said she has no plans to seek charges against anyone at this time.
"The lesson learned is that social media and the way that is growing, there is definitely a lack of protection and privacy laws," she said.