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Video: Parents of bullied gay Rutgers student speak out

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    >>> back now at 8:09 with a "today" exclusive. 18-year-old tyler clemente took his own life in the fall of 2010 shortly after his roommate at rutgers university allegedly used a webcam to spy on tyler 's private encounter with another man. tyler 's parents will speak out in their first interview in a moment. but first, here is nbc's kerry sanders with more. hey, kerry, good morning.

    >> good morning, ann. tyler 's parents don't know if there is really a direct cause and effect between that secret webcam incident and their son's suicide. the case is yet to go to trial, but either way , investigators believe this was a serious invasion of privacy.

    >> i was in disbelieve.

    >> and today?

    >> i can still barely believe it.

    >> reporter: tyler clemente, a soft-spoken vial inist jumped to his violent death from the george washington bridge to the hudson river below. it was just three days after tyler 's roommate and other students allegedly spied on the quiet teenager as he an another man. secretly embraced and kissed. tyler may have thought no one could see what was going on behind the closed door of his dorm room, but investigators say his roommate's webcam was streaming everything live to the internet.

    >> i'm not angry. i'm heartbroken. i love my son. our family loved our son very much.

    >> reporter: tyler 's parents had learned just days before he left for college he was gay. how were you when he came out to you?

    >> i was very shock. i felt like he had kick me in the stomach. i was very surprised. and --

    >> surprised in a --

    >> i had no clue.

    >> when tyler came out to you and you were so shocked, did he pick up on that in any way or not really?

    >> yes, i think he did pick up on it.

    >> reporter: tyler later tweeted to a friend "mom has basically completely rejected me." has that tweet haunted you in any way?

    >> yes. yeah, it has.

    >> but haunted you because --

    >> because i had never intended him to feel that way, that i -- i think in the tweet he had said that i had rejected him and that was never even a possibility that i would ever be able to have my life without him.

    >> reporter: tyler 's roommate faces 15 charges, including invasion of privacy and hate crime violations. on friday, the 19-year-old rejected a plea deal .

    >> he's innocent, he's not guilty. that's why he rejected the plea.

    >> reporter: but prosecutors have pages upon pages of instant message chats, text messages , e-mails, and tweets, including this tweet they say he posted --

    >> making out with a dude. yeah. when you read that, you're angry?

    >> i don't know. i don't know if anger is the right word. i feel violated. i feel violated for my son.

    >> tyler 's first birthday.

    >> reporter: because tyler left no note explaining his actions, his family says they may never really be able to explain why. a private family that never wanted attention thrust into the spotlight. their grief, nearly 15 months later, still debilitating.

    >> it's almost like a physical pain . you know? it's like a tightening of the chest. it's aching of your muscles. and tightening of your face and your jaw and it is clinching. just physically hurts. pain just hurts so much.

    >> the family says the one thing they have never heard from their son's roommate is an apology. another student, 19-year-old molly way, who was also initially charged in the case, has now agreed to testify for the prosecution. as a condition of her deal, she will also perform 300 hours of community service . a trial date for robby is now set for february 21st . if convicted he could face ten years in state prison .

    >> kerry sanders , thank you so much. joseph and jane clementi are now joining us. good morning to you. you knew your son better than anyone. what do you think his emotions were when he had heard that he had been watched over a webcam kissing a man so soon after coming out and saying that he was gay?

    >> that's a difficult question, but to answer -- because we know him. but there are a private part of people that you don't ever really know. my impression is he would have been upset.

    >> from what we've learned is that he did seek help from the ra and he also did text a friend, a friend from ridgewood. and those things indicate to me that he was very distressed because he was not one to seek out help. he was one to kind of try to fix everything himself. so the fact that he went to seek out help from the ra indicates to me that he was very much upset.

    >> very much upset, needing support. did you feel as you look back over this that he had someone to speak to, that he was supported, that had he had that support, he might not have taken his own life?

    >> i'm not sure that the ra was the right person for him to -- the right help for him to seek. i wished he had come to us, but he didn't. and i wish the ra had encouraged him to come to us.

    >> that's what he should have done, he should have called dad, he should have called mom. come to us.

    >> which brings us to a very sensitive point. you know, this idea of -- we just heard about it in kerry sanders ' piece about how he felt about your reaction, jan, when you came out to him saying that he was gay. if you had a second chance, if you could have a do-over, how would you wish you could have reacted when he told you he was gay?

    >> you know, i don't know that you can change your reactions. that's just something that comes up from within you. he did send that text early only a few days after he had told me and we continued to talk and we continued to have relationship and i have to think that he understood i needed some time to process and i was working through that. and he did know that i still loved him and there was no change in that.

    >> the court case is going to proceed. we don't know how this will go. but i want to know really more than anything, what is your message to gay people out there, young people who are struggling with this? what is your message to parents out there? because i know you've started a foundation. you want to make a stand against bullying. you want to encourage families in this -- in a way that makes them less vulnerable.

    >> right. we started the foundation to help people. if you feel alone, find somebody, reach out to parents, friends, get help. suicide is never the right answer. it's always wrong.

    >> well, there's something that is very wrong whenever a young person commits suicide but a gay person is seven times more likely to commit suicide than heterosexual.

    >> that's why one of the aspects of our foundation is to work on lgbt acceptance.

    >> well, you have a big job ahead of you, joe.

    >> yeah. yeah.

    >> and jane. thank you so much for joining us this morning.

    >> thank you.

    >> we'll talk again, i hope. my best to you.

TODAY contributor
updated 12/12/2011 9:58:50 AM ET 2011-12-12T14:58:50

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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Video: Parents of bullied gay Rutgers student speak out (on this page)

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.

Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi committed suicide in 2010.

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.”

Story: Internet was help — and hell — for Rutgers freshman

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.”

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"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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