Rutgers student's suicide shouldn't define him, brother says

Tyler Clementi was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey when he killed himself on September 22, 2010.

Story highlights

  • "The tragedy is that the sadness at the end ... defines everything," James Clementi says
  • Tyler Clementi killed himself after two students allegedly spied on him via webcam kissing a man
  • His roommate goes on trial this month on 15-count indictment, including hate crimes
  • James Clementi's interview with CNN's Jason Carroll airs on "Anderson Cooper 360"
Almost 15 months since Tyler Clementi committed suicide, his older brother James wants people to know that "he's much more than the way that he died."
Tyler was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey when he jumped off the George Washington Bridge in New York on September 22, 2010, after prosecutors say his roommate and another Rutgers student spied on Clementi kissing another man via a computer webcam.
His suicide ignited a media firestorm and thrust his brother into the national conversation in a way that James Clementi still finds difficult to grasp.
"There's been so much attention and focus on my brother in the media in the last year and a half, since he passed," Clementi told CNN's Jason Carroll in an interview airing Wednesday on "Anderson Cooper 360." "But I felt like his voice and his personality, who he was, got lost completely in a lot of the dialogue that was out there about him."
Clementi said the brother he grew up with for 18 years was quiet and shy, but also extremely curious about the world around him.
Tyler Clementi's brother speaks out
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Parents of suicide victim speak up
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Clementi's parents: 'We don't know why'
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"Anything that he didn't know, he would find out everything there was to find out about it," he said.
James, who is gay, said they hadn't spoken about each other's sexuality growing up, but when James finally came out to Tyler before Tyler left for college, he said his younger brother was becoming more comfortable with his own sexuality.
"I didn't want to push him," James said. "I actually brought it up to him that I was gay, kind of hoping that he would reciprocate and tell me the same thing about himself. ... I just wanted him to know so that it would be a safe place and that if he did want to talk to me, he would be able to."
Tyler told James he was gay, too, and James said it didn't "seem to be any kind of burden or trouble for him, he seemed OK with it."
James acknowledged that while Tyler seemed at peace with himself before leaving for college, he must have hidden a pain within him, and he wonders how long he was hiding it.
"I think he was being brave by being honest with the people around him about his sexuality, and I think he really tried to be a strong person and be an honest person," James said. "It just seems like he was being punished for that forthrightness and made to be a joke or a laughingstock, and I think that must have taken its toll on him emotionally and mentally."
Tyler Clementi's roommate, Dharun Ravi, is facing a 15-count indictment, which includes hate crime charges, in connection with Tyler Clementi's death. He is going on trial on February 21. In December, Ravi turned down a plea deal that would have allowed him to avoid jail time.
"The trial is going to be incredibly emotional," James Clementi said. "I think we're just hoping for some kind of justice in the court system and putting our faith in the prosecution to do what they need to do."
When asked whether he thinks about forgiving Ravi, Clementi acknowledged that he's not quite "there right now," but said he knows there will be a time for that.
For now, James Clementi is memorializing Tyler in an Out Magazine article, "Letters to My Brother." In one of the letters -- they all were written after Tyler's death -- James asks how, after coming from the same background, Tyler always had a "confidence and strength" that James didn't see in himself.
"I still, in many ways, wish I was more like him," Clementi told CNN. "The tragedy is that the sadness at the end was so much that it defines everything, but I think, to me, he is a strong and beautiful person and I admire him."