By Marianne O'Donnell
The family of a Rutgers University student who killed himself after discovering his roommate, Dharun Ravi, had spied on him is speaking out for the first time since Ravi’s conviction of hate crimes earlier this year.
Tyler Clementi’s parents, Jane and Joe Clementi, and his older brother James told Rock Center exclusively that Tyler was struggling with many issues before his death. But they believe Ravi’s decision to spy on Tyler during a sexual encounter with another man in his dorm room played a role in the suicide. They also say they have changed their views on homosexuality in the wake of their son’s death.
‘Whatever underlying depressions or pains that were going on with [Tyler], that was straw that broke the camel’s back and that was the thing that pushed him to the breaking point,” James Clementi told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview scheduled to air Thursday, June 28 at 10pm/9c.
Tyler Clementi, 18, had just begun his freshman year at Rutgers University’s Busch Campus in September 2010 when he asked Ravi, 20, if he could have their room for the evening. Ravi says he later went to a dorm mate’s room and remotely activated a computer webcam. Ravi says the webcam briefly streamed live video of Clementi in an embrace with his date.
Ravi then tweeted the following: “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.”
Clementi later told a dorm advisor that he had read that tweet, and another by Ravi that indicated he planned to spy on Clementi and his date again. A day later Clementi committed suicide.
“I think it was – it was the humiliation that his roommates and his dorm mates were watching him in a very intimate act and that they were laughing behind his back,” said Jane Clementi. “The last thing that Tyler looked at before he left the dorm room for the bridge was the Twitter page, where Ravi was announcing Tyler's activities.”
The Clementis have remained largely silent about Ravi’s actions since he was named in a 15-count indictment last year that included invasion of privacy and hate crimes. He was not charged in connection with their son’s death. A jury later found Ravi guilty on all counts, putting him at risk of years in prison. Instead, Ravi was sentenced to just 30 days in jail, 300 hours of community service and three years of probation. The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, which tried the case, is appealing the sentence.
Last week, Ravi walked out of a county jail after having served just 20 days. To the Clementis, the punishment was far too lenient.
“I think the judge sent a clear message to other prosecutors,” said Jane Clementi. “This isn't worthwhile. There are no consequences for these actions.”
But the Clementis also say they realize their son was wrestling with demons unrelated to the spying incident. Just weeks before he left home to attend Rutgers he told his mother he was gay. She says the news “shocked” her, in part because of her strong Christian faith. Since then she says she’s gone from “point A” in her beliefs “to point B.”
“Was that point A, the point of "homosexuality is a sin?" asked Holt.
“Well, yes,” Mrs. Clementi answered. “And of trying to just accept it.”
She said she also realizes that Tyler may have misread her reaction during their conversation. He later texted a friend that his mother had rejected him after he came out to her.
“It just was like a dagger,” Mrs. Clementi said. “And that took me a long time to process. Because I did not think I had rejected him.”
Now, Jane Clementi says she and her family are trying to help gay teens win greater acceptance through the foundation they’ve started in Tyler’s honor. Clementi’s parents say they hope The Tyler Clementi Foundation will discourage cyber bullying and the notion that they themselves once held that homosexuality is a sin.
“Sin needs to be taken out of homosexuality,” said Joe Clementi. “Our children need to understand – and adults need to understand – that they're not broken.”
Rock Center's Carlo Dellaverson contributed to this report.
Editor's note: Lester Holt's exclusive interview with Tyler Clementi's family airs Thursday, June 28 at 10pm/9c on NBC's Rock Center with Brian Williams.