It started with a Twitter message Sept. 19: “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.”
That night, authorities say, the Rutgers University student who sent the message used a camera in his dormitory room to stream the roommate’s intimate encounter live on the Internet.
And three days later, the roommate who had been surreptitiously broadcast — Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman and an accomplished violinist — jumped from the George Washington Bridge into the Hudson River in an apparent suicide.
The Sept. 22 death, details of which the authorities disclosed Wednesday, was the latest by a young American that followed the online posting of hurtful material. The news came on the same day that Rutgers kicked off a two-year, campuswide project to teach the importance of civility, with special attention to the use and abuse of new technology.
The Middlesex County prosecutor’s office said Clementi’s roommate, Dharun Ravi, 18, of Plainsboro, N.J., and another classmate, Molly Wei, 18, of Princeton Junction, N.J., had each been charged with two counts of invasion of privacy for using “the camera to view and transmit a live image” of Clementi. The most serious charges carry a maximum sentence of five years in jail.
Ravi was charged with two additional counts of invasion of privacy for attempting a similar live feed on the Internet on Sept. 21, the day before the suicide. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, James O’Neill, said the investigation was continuing, but he declined to “speculate on additional charges.”
Ravi was freed on $25,000 bail, and Wei was released on her own recognizance. The lawyer for Ravi, Steven D. Altman, declined to comment on the accusations. A phone message left at the offices of William A. Fox, Wei’s lawyer, was not returned.
Clementi’s family issued a statement Wednesday confirming the suicide and pledging cooperation with the criminal investigation.
“Tyler was a fine young man, and a distinguished musician,” the statement read. “The family is heartbroken beyond words.”
Danielle Birnbohm, a freshman who lived across the hall from him in Davidson Hall, said Ravi had said the initial broadcast was an accident — that he viewed the encounter after dialing his own computer from another room in the dorm.