Rutgers students wear black, leave flowers after suicide of teen’

By Samantha Henry, AP
Friday, October 1, 2010

Emotions run high at Rutgers after teen’s suicide

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. — Rutgers University students wore black on Friday to remember a classmate who committed suicide as a lawmaker proposed stiffer penalties for invasion of privacy — the charge against the roommate accused of secretly streaming video of the victim’s sexual tryst with a man.

Calling it “Black Friday,” students at New Jersey’s largest university were encouraged to leave flowers or mementoes at a makeshift memorial for 18-year-old Tyler Clementi, a freshman and promising violinist who jumped off the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River last week.

The Rutgers football team also planned a moment of silence before its game Saturday against Tulane.

About a dozen students from the Phi Delta Theta fraternity set up two tables Friday about a half-mile from the dorms in neighboring Piscataway where, authorities say, Clementi’s roommate and another freshman surreptiously captured his liaison.

Fraternity members urged students to wear black and collected bouquets, roses or potted flowers from people who wanted to send condolences to Clementi’s family.

Rose Caro, a Rutgers senior who was helping out with the tables, said Clementi’s death has “hit us all hard.” The college has a diverse and tolerant student population, she said, and she hoped people didn’t get an image of the campus as virulently homophobic.

“A lot of kids are just still immature,” she said. “I’m sure those kids had no idea what the end result would be, and they have to live with what happened for the rest of their lives.”

The tables also offered a forum where people could write messages to Clementi’s family.

“To recognize this individual is not only to honor a life that was so needlessly lost, but to silently (or vocally) speak out against the flagrantly intolerant and ignorant mindset that facilitated this tragic event,” one message read.

The saga that unfolded this week at Rutgers has become a flashpoint for debate about the treatment of young gays and lesbians.

Shortly before Clementi died, a post appeared on a website catering to gay men that sought advice on what to do after learning that a roommate secretly filmed a tryst. While it’s impossible to be certain that that post and subsequent ones were made by Clementi, they mirror the same timeline as the alleged filming and reflect the anguish likely in such a situation.

The website Gawker first reported that someone started a discussion on a graphic gay-oriented website after realizing his roommate was “spying” on him with a webcam.

The author described his conflicted feelings after reading his roommate’s tweets about the author kissing a guy in their room while he watched from afar. Should he report his roommate or request a room change? Would either help or just make things worse? The author later wrote that he told a resident assistant about the filming — and that he unplugged his roommate’s computer and searched the room for hidden cameras before another liaison.

The last known communication from Clementi was on his Facebook page. It said, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry.”

Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another student, and Molly Wei, of Princeton, N.J., both 18, are charged with invasion of privacy, with the most serious charges carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison.

If the freshly introduced bill passes and even if they’re convicted, their penalties would stick under the old law providing for up to five years in prison.

But Middlesex County Prosecutor Bruce J. Kaplan said Thursday that more charges were possible under New Jersey’s hate-crimes law.

“We will be making every effort to assess whether bias played a role in the incident, and, if so, we will bring appropriate charges,” he said in a statement.

Ravi’s lawyer has not responded to requests for comment. Messages left with an attorney believed to be representing Wei were not returned.

Sen. Shirley Turner’s bill would raise the maximum fine for privacy invasion from $15,000 to $150,000 and would increase the possible prison sentence to five to 10 years, from the current three to five years.

“Whether this was a cruel joke or outright harassment of this student, what happened on Rutgers University’s campus was a crime,” the Democrat said. “We need to send a clear message that we’re not going to take this lightly.”

High school friends of the suspects, both 2010 graduates of West Windsor-Plainsboro High, say the suspects have no problem with gay people.

“He had gay friends,” Derek Yan, 16, told The Associated Press. Yan said that he chatted online with Ravi, an Ultimate Frisbee player, about college life in recent weeks. “He said he was lucky to have a good roommate,” Yan said. “He said his roommate was cool.”

Jim McGreevey, the former New Jersey governor who resigned after he announced he was a “gay American,” said Friday he was “filled with great sadness” at Clementi’s suicide. He talked about the difficulties of coming to terms with being gay, especially while young.

“He was trying to find a community online, but at the same time basically being terrorized online, by roommates,” he told ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Rutgers officials declined to comment on whether Clementi had ever complained about his treatment to staff members, told people he was being bullied or harassed, or asked for a transfer out of his dorm room.

University spokesman Greg Trevor said such requests were considered “part of a student’s record” and not allowed to be publicly disclosed.

Mulvihill reported from Haddonfield. Contributing to this report were Associated Press news researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York; videographers Ted Shaffrey in Ridgewood and Bonny Ghosh in Plainsboro; and writers Angela Delli Santi in Trenton and Wayne Parry in Atlantic City.

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