The passing of 15 months since the suicide death of her son Tyler has done little to lessen the pain Jane Clementi feels over losing the sweet-natured, talented concert violinist who had only just begun his journey into adulthood.
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Tyler Clementi, 18, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey, jumped off New York City’s George Washington Bridge Sept. 22, 2010, weeks after he revealed to his parents he was gay and just days after his romantic encounter with another man was secretly recorded by his college roommate and streamed over the internet. Tyler’s suicide drew worldwide headlines focusing on the issue of the bullying of gay youth, who are seven times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexuals.
In their first television interview, Tyler’s parents Jane and Joe described the feelings of loss that still loom large in their lives.
“It’s almost like a physical pain,” Jane told NBC’s Kerry Sanders. “It’s like a tightening of the chest. It’s aching of the muscles and the tightening of your face and your jaw and you’re clenching, and it just physically hurts.”Story: Parents of Rutgers webcam victim visit campus
The Clementis are still dealing with the aftermath of their son’s suicide as Tyler’s roommate, 19-year-old Dharun Ravi, faces 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, which could carry a 10-year prison sentence. Ravi rejected a plea deal on Friday and is scheduled to stand trial Feb. 21.
The events leading to Clementi’s suicide — he posted a Facebook note the evening of Sept. 22, writing, “Jumping off the gw bridge sorry” — still haunt his parents. The evening of Sept. 19, Ravi sent a Twitter message to classmate Molly Wei, reading, “Roommate asked for the room until midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on my webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.” He then viewed the encounter via webcam on Wei’s laptop.
When Tyler learned of the invasion of privacy, he asked his dorm’s resident adviser to assign him a new room. Speaking live on TODAY Monday, Jane Clementi told Ann Curry their son, unfortunately, never told them about what he was going through on campus.
“I wished he would have come to us, but he didn’t,” she said. “I wish the RA would have encouraged him to come to us.”
After Tyler’s suicide, his father Joe was shocked to learn his son had been secretly been monitored by his roommate during his encounter with another man. It’s an issue he still is coming to terms with, telling NBC’s Sanders, “I feel violated; I feel violated for my son.”
Tyler’s parents agreed that their son was going through a difficult time even before the webcam episode, having come out to his parents just before he left for college. While dad Joe was supportive from the onset, mom Jane admits she had a difficult time coming to terms with her son revealing he was gay. In the days following coming out to his parents, Tyler posted a Twitter message saying his mother had “rejected” him.
Jane Clementi told Curry that message might be misconstrued in hindsight, since the pair had kept lines of communication open.
“I don’t know that you can change your reactions; it’s just something that comes up from within you,” she said. “He did send that text early, a few days after he had told me.
“We continued to talk and we continued to have a relationship. I have to think that he understood I needed some time to process and I was working through that. He did know that I still loved him and that there was no change in that.Story: Former student in Rutgers suicide case faces February trial
“There was never even a possibility that I would ever be able to have my life without him.”
While the still-grieving parents await the outcome of Ravi’s trial, they’re making positive strides to preserve their son's memory through the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which focuses attention on bullying, particularly cyber bullying, as well as acceptance of gay youth.
Dad Joe told Curry he has a message for gay youth who, like his son, may find themselves at a desperate place in their lives.
“If you feel alone, find somebody, reach out to parents, friends; get help,” he said. “Suicide is never the right answer — it’s always wrong.”
More TODAY News
"For youth between the ages of 10 and 24, suicide is the third leading cause of death," according to the Centers for Disease Control. Further, more young people survive suicide attempts than actually die. "Each year, approximately 149,000 youth between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical care for self-inflicted injuries at Emergency Departments across the U.S."
"Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities," the CDC advises.
Warning signs of suicide:
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide but may not be what causes a suicide.
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide:
Do not leave the person alone.
Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
The National Council for Suicide Prevention
SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)
How to help someone who has posted suicidal content on Facebook
For online support for LGBT teens, visit:
The Trevor Project, a national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for gay and questioning youth.
GLSEN: Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, an organization for students, parents, and teachers that tries to affect positive change in schools.
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