Tyler Clementi came out before Rutgers, mom says

It's taken more than a year for Joseph and Jane Clementi to speak publicly about their son, Tyler. The 18-year-old Rutgers University freshman committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge in New York. He didn't leave a note or any explanation of why he took his life. But the Clementis, believe cyber-bullying may have played a part in their son's tragedy. And now, they are devoting their lives to trying to prevent other parents from suffering their pain.

Pictures: Tyler Clementi

"Tyler was a great kid," Joseph Clementi told CBS News. "He was an accomplished musician. He was a lot of fun to have around.

Jane Clementi added, "He had a very good sense of humor."

Tyler's parents thought they knew everything they should know about their son.

But two days before he left for school, Tyler Clementi told his mother he was gay.

"He pretty much just told me, 'Mom, I'm gay.' And I was really, really surprised. Very, very surprised."

While the Clementis processed that surprise, Tyler Clementi began college at Rutgers, where he roomed with 19-year-old Dharun Ravi. Ravi is accused of using a webcam to secretly stream video to the internet of a sexual encounter between Clementi and another man.

"We don't know why Tyler committed suicide," Jane Clementi said. "All we know is his alleged invasion of his privacy and how he reached out to the (resident assistants), and how (he sent a text to) a friend that he was upset by that."

When the Clementis were asked by CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller if they're angry at Ravi, Jane Clementi said, "We're just overly sad by the whole situation." Joseph Clementi responded, "For me, it's not anger. It's really, more heartbreak."

Ravi faces up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.

"What we're looking for is justice and accountability," Jane Clementi said. "It doesn't have to be a huge punishment, but does have to be acknowledgement of wrongdoing."

So do the Clementis want an apology?

"That's a very tough question," Jane Clementi said. "It certainly would welcomed. I'm not expecting it, and I don't really foresee it in the future."

"It makes no difference to me. I'm not expecting one," Joseph Clementi said.

What the Clementis do hope for is a change in a culture that breeds intolerance.

Joseph Clementi remarked, "When I was growing up they called you a name -- now the world hears about it, that's the power of the internet."

The Clementis recently started a foundation in honor of their son, hoping to decrease the suicide rate among gay and lesbian teens. Studies show teens who are homosexual are seven times more likely to consider suicide.

"We realize there is no other feeling that is worse than the loss of a child," Joseph Clementi said. "We don't want parents to have the same experience that we had."

If Tyler were alive today, Joseph Clementi said his son would be "very proud and very happy" about his family's efforts.

"My only wish is, I wish he was here to help us do it," Joseph Clementi said.

Jane Clementi added, "He would love to see something good come out of the end."

A judge ruled in the case that Tyler's suicide had nothing to do with the charges against Dharun Ravi, but Rhavi faces 15 counts of criminal charges that include invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, which is a hate crime. His trial date is set for Feb. 21, 2012.

  • Michelle Miller

    Michelle Miller is an award-winning CBS News correspondent based in New York, reporting for all CBS News broadcasts and platforms. Her work regularly appears on the "CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley", "CBS This Morning" and "CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood". She joined CBS News in 2004.

Comments

CBSN Live

pop-out
Live Video

Watch CBSN Live

Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.