If Ravi accepted the plea offer, he would serve no more than five years. Ravi said yes, in an unexpectedly high voice, and gave a reflexive smile. On a Saturday night in August, 2010, a week before starting college, Dharun Ravi decided to look online for his future Rutgers roommate. Ravi, who was planning to major in math and economics, had learned that he had been assigned to Davidson Hall—a collection of single-story, barracks-like dorms on Busch campus, which is considered the dullest of the four Rutgers campuses in New Brunswick and neighboring Piscataway.He would be in Davidson Hall C, a coed dorm for about eighty students. Ravi had found some of Keybowvio’s posts on a Yahoo forum: something about fish tanks, Ravi told Tam, and something else “pertaining to violins.” If, with “pertaining,” Ravi was aiming for sly disdain, Tam struck a different note: “I’m calling it now. ” (“What a pussy,” Tam wrote.) Ravi and Tam also found questions about anti-virus software and contributions to a Web site of counter-revolutionary peevishness called Anythingbutipod.Their youngest son, Tyler, had died a year earlier, and the family’s tragedy was the silent focus of everyone in the room.That September, Tyler Clementi and Ravi were freshman roommates at Rutgers University, in a dormitory three miles from the courtroom.Clementi’s story also became linked to the It Gets Better project—an online collection of video monologues expressing solidarity with unhappy or harassed gay teens.The site was launched the day before Clementi’s death, in response to the suicide, two weeks earlier, of Billy Lucas, a fifteen-year-old from Indiana who, for years, had been called a “fag” and told vicious things, including “You don’t deserve to live.” That October, President Barack Obama taped an It Gets Better message, referring to “several young people who were bullied and taunted for being gay, and who ultimately took their own lives.”It became widely understood that a closeted student at Rutgers had committed suicide after video of him having sex with a man was secretly shot and posted online.
The day after that, Clementi committed suicide by jumping from the George Washington Bridge.“Dear Dharun, It has been a pleasure watching you grow into a caring and responsible person,” the announcement said. His father, Ravi Pazhani, a slight man with metal-frame glasses, sat behind him. We know that you will succeed.”One day this fall, Ravi was in a courthouse in New Brunswick, fifteen miles to the north, awaiting a pre-trial hearing.He knew Clementi’s first name and that his last name started with C; he also knew his e-mail address, [email protected]—apparently, a distillation of musical terms—and had e-mailed him but received no reply. This guy is retarded.” Ravi showed Tam a link to a page on a health forum where, three years earlier, Keybowvio had asked why his asthma symptoms had suddenly worsened, noting that he had prescriptions for Advair and Singulair. In these old posts, at least, Keybowvio—who was indeed Tyler Clementi—seemed worried or defensive about computing.Late that night, according to instant-message communications released by attorneys into the public record, Ravi Googled “keybowvio.” This set in motion a remote, electronic dynamic between the two students that was never quite overtaken by real-world engagement—even after they moved into a tiny room together. Ravi mocked his roommate for “asking if he should boot linux everytime he surfs internet.”Just before midnight, Ravi wrote to Tam: “ / He’s gay.” He had found Keybowvio’s name on Justusboys, a gay-pornography site that also has discussion areas.