article

09.29.10

A University's Suicide Shock

Authorities have recovered the body of 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi, who posted a suicide note to Facebook a week ago after unwittingly being filmed having sex by two classmates, who now face charges.

Authorities have recovered the body of 18-year-old freshman Tyler Clementi, who posted a suicide note to Facebook a week ago after unwittingly being filmed having a sexual encounter by two classmates, who now face charges. Plus, read a statement from Rutgers' president on the suicide.

“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, posted on his Facebook page last Wednesday. When the body of a young man with red hair, wearing a fluorescent orange watch, surfaced in the Hudson River, north of the bridge, late this Wednesday afternoon, the Clementi family’s worst fears were all but confirmed. On Thursday afternoon, the New York medical examiner positively identified the body as that of Tyler Clementi.

Clementi apparently committed suicide after being tormented by his college roommate, who allegedly filmed him having a sexual encounter with another man and broadcast the clips to unidentified parties. Earlier this week, Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce Kaplan brought two felony charges of invasion of privacy against the roommate, Dharun Ravi, and two against a classmate, Molly Wei.

Twitter caches reveal that Ravi said he videotaped Clementi’s sexual liaisons without his knowledge, possibly from Wei’s room, and broadcast the teenager’s private life via iChat, a messaging app that allows one-way or multiple-party text and video exchanges. Clementi had been the second chair violinist in the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra, and judging from the traces of his life left on the Internet, was a Shakespeare aficionado.

Three days before Clementi jumped off the George Washington Bridge, known by police as “surefire” for suicides, Ravi had tweeted, “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.” Although the feed has been deleted, caches turned up the roll. On Sept. 22, Ravi tweeted, “Anyone with iChat, I dare you to video chat me between the hours of 9:30 and 12. Yes it’s happening again.” That was the night Clementi was last heard from.

While Ravi and Wei purged their Twitter feeds, their friends did not. Ravi’s friend from high school and fellow Rutgers student Nikhil Mashettiwar tweeted to his friend on Sept. 20, “we should get our roommates together.” The day after Clementi apparently killed himself, Mashettiwar tweeted, “Gay kid in class: i hate when i like have to repeat myself.” Mashettiwar did not respond to requests for comment about his tweets and deleted his Twitter feed within an hour of being contacted.

What drove the students to torment their classmate is not yet clear and may be left for a jury to decide. At the very least, Ravi and possibly Wei have violated one of Rutgers’ cardinal rules in the Code of Student Conduct. The university’s “policy for recording devices” is the first rule under the student housing section, and explicitly states that “the following behavior is prohibited and may result in removal from the university”:  “Making or attempting to make an audio or video recording of any person(s) on University premises in bathrooms, showers, bedrooms, or other premises where there is an expectation of privacy with respect to nudity and/or sexual activity, without the knowledge and consent of all participants subject to such recordings… Students are expected to respect the reasonable expectations of privacy of other individuals within the University community… In such circumstances the uses of undisclosed hidden recording devices is prohibited, as is the transmission and/or distribution of any such recordings.

For this person’s private sex activities to be put on public display is a heinous crime.

Rankings: The Most Suicidal StatesSharon Stapel, Executive Director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, gave the Daily Beast a statement that she will release on Thursday: "In the last couple of weeks we’ve seen a string of tragic suicides by young people who were tormented by anti-gay bullying and outing. This is about the stigma and culture of homophobia which would lead someone to think that, when outed publically as gay, the only viable option is suicide. The worst harbinger of inequality is this kind of violence, where people are targeted for who they are and then internalize that shame – though the problem is systemic not simply individual but this violence takes real lives. The solutions that create equality and thus end the violence therefore also have to be a systemic, pervasive and consistent in our homes, in our schools and in our institutions."

The chairman of the New Jersey advocacy organization Garden State Equality, Steven Goldstein, called the suicide a hate crime and said in a statement that the group is “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.”

Carlton Harris, a sophomore at Rutgers, told The Daily Beast: “There’s definitely a large gay community at Rutgers, so there’s nothing to fear. But for this person’s private sex activities to be put on public display is a heinous crime.”

Clementi's suicide came three days after 13-year-old Seth Walsh tried to hang himself in his backyard in California. Walsh had been openly bullied for being gay, and attempted suicide on September 19. He had been in a coma ever since, and died Tuesday afternoon.

Claire Howorth is the Arts editor at the Daily Beast.

Brian Ries is tech and social media editor at The Daily Beast. He lives in Brooklyn.