US undergraduate commits suicide after 'outing' via webcast

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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tyler Clementi's Facebook profile picture.
Image: Facebook.

Tyler Clementi, eighteen, a freshman at Rutgers University in the United States, jumped off the George Washington Bridge last Wednesday after roommates broadcast his same-sex encounters online.

Clementi shared a room with Dhraun Ravi, in Davidson Hall on Rutgers' Piscataway campus.

On September 19, Dhraun Ravi is alleged to have secretly activated a webcam in their room, then retreated down the hall to the room of his childhood friend, Molly Wei, where they used Skype to connect to the live video feed of Clementi having sex. Ravi tweeted, "Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into molly's room and turned on my Web cam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay".

Clementi reported the incident to the university, and that information has been passed to the authorities, according to Gregory Blimling, university vice president for student affairs.

Ravi attempted to repeat his actions on the following Wednesday, after seeing his roommate kissing a teenaged boy. Writing on Facebook he said, "Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes, it's happening again."

The following Wednesday, at around 4 p.m., fellow freshman Lauren Garcia saw Clementi leaving the dormitory. "He had his iPod in his ear, and just had this blank stare on his face,", she said. Clementi drove one hour along the New Jersey Turnpike, abandoning his car on the Jersey side. Writing a final message on his own Facebook page saying, "Jumping off the gw bridge sorry", he left a wallet containing his driver's licence and Rutgers ID card, and his mobile phone on the roadside. According to witnesses, he scaled the railings, crouched down, and jumped at approximately 8:50 p.m— about eight minutes after his Facebook posting. Those details were relayed to press anonymously by a law enforcement official.

One of the anonymous witnesses, a 45-year-old from West New York, said "It was so quick, as soon as he saw us, he went. He didn't give us an opportunity to do anything."

New York Police Department's Harbour Unit recovered a body of a young man yesterday, in the Hudson River to the North of the bridge, but it has not yet been positively identified.

Ravi and Wei, both eighteen, were charged with invasion of privacy. Wei voluntarily surrendered to police Monday, and was released on her own recognizance; Ravi surrendered the following day, and has been released on $25,000 bail. All three students started their courses in August.

The crime of "transmitting sexual images" is a 3rd degree felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of five years.

Clementi, from Ridgewood, New Jersey, played the violin, and was a member of the Ridgewood High School chamber orchestra. A student from the same hall described him as quiet and shy. His parents were apparently unaware of his sexuality; Robert Righthand, a friend of Clementi since grade school, said "he had it in reserve for a very long time [...] You never thought he was depressed. You just thought he was quiet. He wasn't the person to open up to a lot of people."

A gathering of around 100 people held a vigil on Wednesday, chanting slogans such as "We're here, we're queer, we're not going home."

The Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays organization announced a "call to action" today. Stephen Goldstein, of LGBT advocacy organization Garden State Equality, said, "[Clementi,] by all accounts, was brilliant, talented and kind [...] we are sickened that anyone in our society, such as the students allegedly responsible [...] might consider destroying others' lives as a sport."

On Wednesday prior to the incident, the university launched "Project Civility", a two-year campaign encouraging students to be thougtful of others. The University president, Richard McCormick, issued a letter stating that "If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university's standards of decency and humanity."


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