Reporting from Hackensack, N.J. — The New Jersey attorney general's office is reviewing the case of a Rutgers University freshman who jumped from the George Washington Bridge last week after images of him having sex with another man were broadcast on the Internet, and will decide whether to prosecute the incident as a hate crime, a spokesman said Thursday.
A body pulled from the Hudson River was identified Thursday as that of Tyler Clementi, 18, of Ridgewood, N.J. His death was ruled a suicide. Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, and a friend of Ravi's, Molly Wei, have each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using a webcam to film and transmit footage of Clementi having sex in his dorm room.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called the incident an "unspeakable tragedy," but said he would leave it to Atty. Gen. Paula T. Dow to decide whether to prosecute the incident as a hate crime. The case was being reviewed to "determine the appropriateness of the charges," said Paul Loriquet, Dow's spokesman.
Ravi and Wei each face a maximum five-year sentence if convicted of transmitting the footage over the Internet, a third-degree crime. Ravi faces additional fourth-degree invasion of privacy charges for allegedly collecting the images. If Dow chooses to prosecute the case as a hate crime, the third-degree charge would be elevated to a second-degree offense, and Ravi and Wei would face a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, Loriquet said.
Ravi allegedly posted messages on Twitter reading: "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 posted a brief message on his Facebook page Sept. 22 announcing that he planned to leap from the bridge.
"As the father of a 17-year-old, I can't imagine what those parents are feeling right now. I can't," Christie said Thursday. "You send your son to school to get an education with great hopes and aspirations. I can't imagine what those parents are feeling."
Those close to Clementi knew him as a gifted violinist who had played with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra in high school and won scholarships and awards for his musical talents. At Rutgers, he was a rarity — a freshman who wasn't majoring in music but who played in a competitive, graduate-level orchestra.
"He was so incredibly talented — I could not believe how good he was for such a young boy," said Diane Wade, a violinist with the Ridgewood Symphony Orchestra who often sat next to Clementi at rehearsals and performances. "Such a nice kid all the way around. … As a parent, he was the way you want your kids to be — polite, courteous, serious about the work he was doing and a hard worker."
His parents, Joe and Jane Clementi, released a statement through a lawyer confirming their son's suicide and said they were cooperating with the criminal investigation.
"Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician," the statement said. "The family is heartbroken beyond words."
Steven Goldstein, chairman of the gay rights advocacy group Garden State Equality, said that not enough is being done to deter young people from bullying and harassing each other.
"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," Goldstein said. "We can only hope the alleged perpetrators receive the maximum possible sentence."
Goldstein said that Garden State Equality is working on a school anti-bullying bill, and that the group has reached out to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender campus groups and the Rutgers administration.
Rutgers University President Richard L. McCormick said in a statement that university police and the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs were investigating the incident. McCormick also said the university is "extraordinarily proud" of its diversity, and has just launched a two-year dialogue on civility.
"If the charges are true, these actions gravely violate the university's standards of decency and humanity," McCormick said.
Clementi was scheduled to perform for the first time with the Rutgers Symphony Orchestra on Saturday. His name will remain in the program. But Rutgers security officials picked up his violin Tuesday, said Kynan Johns, the orchestra's director.