Freshman Commits Suicide After Roommate Broadcast Gay Encounter Online
An 18-year-old Rutgers freshman jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly filmed, via a hidden webcam, and then broadcast a sexual encounter the student had with another man, reports revealed yesterday.
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Tyler Clementi, originally from Rigewood, is said to have been a quiet, accomplished violinist who won a scholarship to go to university from the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra.
On September 22, 72 hours after Clementi became aware that he had been filmed and the encounter broadcast by his roommate, it is reported that he sent a final update from his cell phone to his Facebook profile at around 8pm. The message read “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” The AP reports that two witnesses saw someone jump from the bridge at around this time. Clementi’s personal belongings including his cell phone and wallet were later found at the scene.
On Wednesday afternoon police recovered a man’s body from the Hudson River just north of the bridge. Authorities have yet to positively identify the body.
The university administration is said to have moved swiftly to investigate this case. Clementi’s roommate Dharun Ravi, and Ravi’s friend Molly Wei, both 18, have been charged by police over the incident. The investigation is ongoing.
Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, and Molly Wei, 18, of Princeton, were charged with two counts each of invasion of privacy for setting up a camera in a dorm room on Sept. 19 and using it to view and transmit a live sex scene, said Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan.
Ravi’s Twitter feed on that date referred to seeing his roommate have sex with another man in their room on the Piscataway campus, classmates said.
“Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” Ravi said on his Twitter page in a Sept. 19 entry posted at 6:17 p.m.
Two days later, Ravi posted another entry directing his nearly 150 Twitter followers to iChat, an internet messaging service with a live video feed.
“Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again,” Ravi wrote in the Sept. 21 post.
Ravi’s Twitter feed has since been taken down. But the entries survived in a cached version of the page still available through Google’s search engine this afternoon.
Prosecutors said Ravi and Wei set up a camera on Sept. 19 and broadcast live images of Clementi having a “sexual encounter.” Ravi is also accused of trying unsuccessfully to broadcast a second sex scene Sept. 21.
The pair could face up to five years in prison.
Rutgers President Richard McCormick has issued a statement, part of which reads, “Our university community feels the pain of his loss, and I know there is anger and outrage about these events.”
Following the confirmation of suicide yesterday, New Jersey gay rights group Garden State Equality issued a strong statement, an excerpt from which reads:
There are no words sufficient to express our range of feelings today. We are outraged at the perpetrators. We are heartbroken over the tragic loss of a young man who, by all accounts, was brilliant, talented and kind. And we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible for making the surreptitious video, might consider destroying others’ lives as a sport. As this case makes its way through the legal system, we can only hope the alleged perpetrators receive the maximum possible sentence.
That the victim’s roommate was also a freshman, just months out of high school, demonstrates once again that our high schools are not doing enough to educate their students that harassment, intimidation and bullying of other students is unacceptable in every instance. It is grotesque to think that people such as these alleged perpetrators went onto college without, apparently, ever having been taught basic life lessons of decency – and that they made their way through the educational system before allegedly committing this unconscionable act.
Garden State Equality is currently working on a new anti-school bullying bill that if enacted, would be the nation’s strongest such law. It would follow the three anti-bullying laws the state has enacted since 2002, all of which include bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
We have also reached out to the Rutgers University administration and LGBT campus groups. We will keep you apprised of developments.
As word spread of Clementi’s death, a portrait of a quiet, hard working young man who kept to himself has emerged from those on campus.
Ed Schmiedecke, the recently retired music director at Ridgewood High School, where Clementi graduated earlier this year, said Clementi was a violinist whose life revolved around music.
“He was a terrific musician, and a very promising, hardworking young man.”
On campus and off, Clementi’s story gained sympathy after word of his death spread.
More than 100 people attended a campus rally Wednesday night, with some lying on the ground and chanting things like, “If my dorm’s not safe, Rutgers isn’t safe.”
“Had he been in bed with a woman, this would not have happened,” said Lauren Felton, a 21-year-old student from Warren. “He wouldn’t have been outed via an online broadcast and his privacy would have been respected and he might still have his life.”
However one fellow student has defended the accused saying, “I think [Ravi is] a good person. I don’t think he’s a homophobe. It would’ve been no different if it was a girl in the room.”
If reports are to be believed, Ravi’s apparent glee at the fact that Clementi’s liaison was with another man seems self evident in his Twitter posting, which can be viewed here. Arguing that he would have broadcast the encounter had Clementi been with a woman is not a particularly sparkling endowment of Ravi’s character.
Ravi may not be anti-gay or homophobic, but his childish act of humiliation traded on the fact that his roommate was with another man and in that regard did knowingly draw on anti-gay sentiment. To say that this is solely an issue of anti-gay animus would be incorrect though, and it speaks to a wider problem of bullying in schools and colleges, one that is still a very real, very deadly issue that, day by day, is costing lives.
At any length, I can’t imagine the kind of embarrassment that Clementi must have felt having his privacy invaded in such a way. It is unclear whether Clementi had yet come out or even whether he identified as gay or bisexual, but it is not hard to see the devastation that a person might feel over this incident, especially if still coming to terms with their sexual identity, whatever it ultimately proved to be, only then to have a most intimate and private encounter broadcast in such an undignified and callous manner.
This marks the fourth suicide from an LGBT or perceived LGBT youth in as many weeks, all related to bullying. Should you want to, you can read about the other cases by clicking here.
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Update: The body pulled from the Hudson river on Wednesday has now been identified as belonging to Tyler Clementi. CNN indicates that prosecutors are investigating the case for additional bias charges against the accused. The article also suggests that there is evidence Clementi may have reached out for help when he found out about the invasion of privacy, writing on a gay forum and asking for advice as to whether he should report the incident. Please click here for more.