I never met Tyler Clementi, but I was profoundly moved by his story.
He was a son. He was a brother. He was, by all accounts, a gentle soul -- a lover of music, a gifted violinist whose work was called distinguished.
And the 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University was also the keeper of a secret. Robert Righthand knew about the secret. He was Tyler’s friend -- they grew up together in Ridgewood, New Jersey.
“I can tell you that whatever state he was in, he had it in reserve for a very long time,” Righthand told the New York Post.
“You never thought he was depressed,” he said. “You just thought he was quiet.”
Dharun Ravi also new about Tyler’s secret -- and on September 19th, he decided to do the unthinkable -- he shared Tyler’s secret with the world.
In the privacy of his dorm room, the young violinist engaged in a romantic encounter. But Tyler had no idea his roommate was engaged in the ultimate betrayal. Every move, every intimate moment was being secretly recorded and streamed live on the Internet.
Ravi, and fellow freshman Molly Wei, remotely accessed the feed and saw Tyler and his friend.
“Roommate asked for the room till midnight. I went into Molly’s room and turned on my Web cam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay,” Ravi tweeted to his friends. In a matter of moments, Tyler’s private life became very public.
It’s unclear how many people actually saw the video. But the damage had been done. Word began to spread and students began to gossip. For Tyler, it was the beginning of the end.
For Tyler’s parents, it was the beginning of a nightmare.
A police officer arrived at their New Jersey home and delivered the news.
The officer explained to the couple that their son had parked his car on the New Jersey side of the Hudson River. They said he posted a final message on his Facebook page and then began the long walk over the George Washington Bridge.
“Jumping off the gw bridge sorry,” he wrote.
And so it happened that the soft-spoken boy with sandy hair stopped and climbed over the railing. A witness said the anguished young man paused for a moment -- and then Tyler Clementi plunged into eternity.
Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei will answer for their alleged crimes -- but the damage that’s been caused is irreversible.
In this age of social networking, privacy is becoming an ancient relic. Lives can be changed by the posting of a single photo or profile update. And in the case of Tyler, lives can be lost in 140 characters or less.
What kind of a people have we become that we find joy and comfort in the misfortunes of others? What kind of people have we become that we find pleasure in exploiting the secret places of another’s life?
Have we reached an age in this nation where destroying lives has become something of a spectator sport?
In the coming days the pundits will pontificate, the politicians will politic and the advocates will advocate -- all trying to twist and turn the private hurts of Tyler into whatever fits their agenda.
But far away from the ranting and the rhetoric, a New Jersey family endures heartbreak. We know that time passes and season fade, but for the Clementi family -- time stands still.
They mourn for a son who will never come home, a life that will never be lived. The melodies and harmonies that once filled their Ridgewood, New Jersey home are gone -- replaced with a haunting silence.
And as I write these words, I can’t help but wonder -- how many more Tylers are out there - waiting for someone to push them over the edge.
Todd Starnes is a Fox News Radio reporter and bestselling reporter. For more from Todd, click here.
Todd Starnes is host of Fox News & Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. His latest book is "God Less America: Real Stories From the Front Lines of the Attack on Traditional Values." Follow Todd on Twitter @ToddStarnes and find him on Facebook.