Private moment made public leads to a fatal jump

Mgn
Thursday, September 30, 2010 - 2:42pm

It started with a Twitter message Sept. 19: “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.”

That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.

And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.

The Sept. 22 death, which the authorities disclosed Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material.

The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to bullying and the use and abuse of new technology.

Those who knew Clementi — on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., at his North Jersey high school and in a community orchestra — were anguished by the circumstances surrounding his death, describing him as intensely devoted musician who was sweet and shy.It started with a Twitter message Sept. 19: “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.”

That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.

And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.

The Sept. 22 death, which the authorities disclosed Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material.

The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to bullying and the use and abuse of new technology.

Those who knew Clementi — on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., at his North Jersey high school and in a community orchestra — were anguished by the circumstances surrounding his death, describing him as intensely devoted musician who was sweet and shy.It started with a Twitter message Sept. 19: “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.”

That night, the authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.

And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.

The Sept. 22 death, which the authorities disclosed Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material.

The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to bullying and the use and abuse of new technology.

Those who knew Clementi — on the Rutgers campus in Piscataway, N.J., at his North Jersey high school and in a community orchestra — were anguished by the circumstances surrounding his death, describing him as intensely devoted musician who was sweet and shy.“It’s really awful, especially in New York and in the 21st century,” said Arkady Leytushh, artistic director of the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, where Clementi played since his freshman year in high school. “It’s so painful. He was very friendly and had very good potential.”

The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office said Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another classmate, Molly Wei, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., had each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Clementi. The most severe charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail.

Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for attempting a similar live feed on the Internet on Sept. 21, the day before the suicide. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, James O’Neill, said the investigation was continuing, but he declined to “speculate on additional charges.”

Hate crime?


Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights group Garden State Equality, said Wednesday that he considered the death a hate crime.

“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,” he said in a statement. “As this case makes its way through the legal system, we can only hope the alleged perpetrators receive the maximum possible sentence.”

It is unclear whether Clementi was gay; classmates say he mostly kept to himself. Danielle Birnbohm, a freshman who lived across the hall from him in Davidson Hall, said that when a counselor asked how many students had known Clementi, only three students out of 50 raised their hands.

But Clementi displayed a favorite quote on his Facebook page, from the song “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” by Burt Bacharach: “What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia.”

And his roommate’s Twitter message makes plain that Ravi believed he knew Clementi’s sexual orientation.

‘Jumping off the gw bridge sorry’


A later message from Ravi appeared to make reference to the second attempt to broadcast Clementi,. “Anyone with iChat,” he wrote Sept. 21, “I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it’s happening again.”

Clementi’s family issued a statement Wednesday confirming the suicide and pledging cooperation with the criminal investigation.

“Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician,” the statement read. “The family is heartbroken beyond words.”

The Star-Ledger of Newark reported that Clementi posted a note on his Facebook page the day of his death: “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.” Friends and strangers have turned the page into a memorial.

While Clementi’s body has not been recovered, witnesses told the police they saw a man jump off the bridge just before 9 p.m. Sept. 22, said Paul Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman. Officers discovered a wallet there with his identification, Browne said.

The police said Wednesday night that they had found the body of a young man in the Hudson north of the bridge and were trying to identify it.

Officials at Ridgewood High School, where Clementi graduated in June, last week alerted parents of current students that his family had reported him missing and encouraged students to take advantage of counseling at the school.

The timing of the news was almost uncanny, coinciding with the start of “Project Civility” at Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey. Long in the planning, the campaign will involve panel discussions, lectures, workshops and other events intended to raise awareness about the importance of respect, compassion and courtesy in everyday interactions.

Events scheduled for this fall include a workshop for students and administrators on residential life on campus, called “Respect Resides at Rutgers,” and a panel discussion titled “Uncivil Gadgets? Changing Technologies and Civil Behavior.”

Rutgers officials would not comment on the death or the arrests, or say whether the two defendants had been suspended. But a spokeswoman issued a statement saying that “the university takes these matters very seriously and has policies in place to deal with student behavior.”

Ravi was freed on $25,000 bail, and Wei was released on her own recognizance. The lawyer for Ravi, Steven Altman, declined to comment on the accusations. A phone message left at the offices of William Fox, Wei’s lawyer, was not returned.

Some students on the Busch campus in Piscataway seemed dazed by the turn of events, remembering their last glimpse of Clementi. Thomas Jung, 19, who shared a music stand with Clementi in the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra, had also played with him in a selective regional orchestra in high school.

On Wednesday afternoon, hours before Clementi’s death, the two rehearsed works by Berlioz and Beethoven. Jung recalled the times they shot each other glances and laughed during difficult passages.

“He loved music,” Jung said. “He was very dedicated. I couldn’t tell if anything was wrong.”
 

 

 

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