Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) says the 24-year-old woman he tweeted a Valentine’s Day message to, before deleting it, is his long-lost daughter.

NBC News’s Luke Russert first reported the news Thursday in a message on Twitter, writing that the congressman “only learned of her 3 [years] ago.”

Cohen’s spokesman, Michael Pagan, confirmed the news with ITK. Pagan said his 63-year-old boss revealed the paternity news to his staff in a Thursday evening meeting just 15 minutes before talking to the media. “The reason why he couldn’t tell anyone is because he was trying to protect her and the family because they’re private citizens,” Pagan told us.

Pagan says he was also in the dark a day earlier, when he described the woman to ITK as “pretty much like family” and the daughter of a “family friend.”

On Wednesday, the lawmaker posted a message on Twitter to a user named Victoria Brink, writing, “nice to know you were watchin SOTU (state of the union.) Happy Valentines beautiful girl. Ilu.” The tweet was deleted within 15 minutes of being posted.

“Ilu” is considered Internet slang for “I love you.”

A biography of Brink on shows a blonde, bikini-clad college student. Brink writes that she plans on “moving back to Beverly Hills or Houston to pursue a career in the fashion industry and do modeling on the side,” following her graduation.

Pagan explained to ITK Thursday, “They have been trying to get to know each other these past three years. I don’t know how often they see each other or how often they talk.”

Cohen, daughter
Source: NBC News via Twitter
Cohen provided NBC News with a photo of him and Brink posing together at a White House Christmas party. He declined to give details on how he discovered he was the father of the woman only three years ago, saying in an interview with the network that a Google search led to Brink’s mother.

“I Googled her mother, found out she had a child and the math looked pretty accurate,” he said. “The mom told me we had a lot of catching up to do.”

Cohen’s office told ITK, “The family didn’t want him to tell anyone yet because they had to get a few things in order. Once this story broke, things started happening. I think he was trying to protect them.”

--This report was originally published at 8:07 p.m. and last updated at 9:03 p.m.