RIDGEWOOD, N.J. - When Tyler Clementi unburdened himself to his parents before heading off to college, there was a lot on his mind. In a 45-minute conversation, the 18-year-old told his mother that he was gay, that he was having doubts about whether there is a God, and that he felt friendless.

His mother thought it had made her son feel better to tell her what was on his mind, though his secrets and sorrow were hard for her to hear.

"He left very comfortable and very relieved," Jane Clementi, a 53-year-old public health nurse, said. "I was very surprised, very much like someone had kicked me in the stomach."

Four weeks later, Tyler Clementi jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge after his Rutgers University dormitory roommate allegedly used a webcam to spy on his sexual encounter with another man.

Jane Clementi and her husband, Joe, have said they want some good to come of their son's death. They have set up a foundation in his name to try to increase acceptance of young gays and stop bullying of gays.

Clementi's death spurred a national conversation about the ill treatment young gays and lesbians often endure. President Obama weighed in, as did talk show hosts, including Ellen DeGeneres. New Jersey lawmakers adopted a school anti-bullying law.

The saga is still playing out in court, where the roommate, Dharun Ravi, faces 15 criminal counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, a hate crime punishable by up to 10 years in state prison.

Last week, Ravi, an immigrant from India, rejected a plea bargain that would have spared him prison time and protected him against deportation if he is convicted. A trial is scheduled to start Feb. 21.

Ravi faces no homicide charges in Clementi's death. His defense lawyers have said they will try to show jurors that factors other than the spying and Ravi's Twitter posts about it drove Clementi to suicide.

Until now, Clementi's life story has been told largely through court documents and his scattered online posts, including on gay-oriented message boards.

He was driven and meticulous - so responsible that his mother would ask him to do the family's grocery shopping.

While in high school, he always wanted to arrive early, Jane Clementi said. "He wanted to be there every morning by 7:15," though classes did not begin for another half-hour.

Throughout his childhood, Clementi relied on his own research, mostly from the Internet, to teach himself new hobbies. He went through phases in which his ever-changing interests included unicycling, cacti, the stock market, and photography. If he could not find an answer to a question by searching the Web, he was likely to post a question in a chat forum.

His main passion was violin, though he came from a family where no one else was a musician. While he usually shied from attention, he loved to perform at concerts and loved hearing applause, his father said.

In youth orchestras, he was driven to become concertmaster, or first-chair violinist, his parents said. But after getting the positions, he often was disappointed with his peers' performances, his mother said.

Music also was the center of his social life. But his parents noticed, belatedly, that while he was sociable at rehearsals, he did not often see orchestra or school friends anywhere else. He never had friends over or went to their homes. If he was bullied, he never brought it up.

She said she was in the family's living room a few days before Tyler, her youngest son, was to head off to college. Tyler, who had been watching TV in the partially finished basement, emerged. She said he was shaking. She thought he was having fears about college.

To her surprise, he told her he was gay. And he shared his doubts about faith, and his sorrow about not having close friends. Each topic, a big one on its own, was a surprise to a mother who thought she knew what was going on.

She said she had talked with her son during their regular walks together about her frustration that his brother James, who she believed was gay, had not come out to the family. He has since come out.

Even then, she said, Tyler never let on that he was gay. "I was a little upset about the trust thing," she said. "Why didn't you tell me before?"

The conversation in which Clementi eventually came out ended with hugs and "I love you's." When she heard him a bit later laughing at a Seinfeld rerun, she thought he was fine.

She thought it was she who was struggling. "Was I sad? Yeah, I was. You can't help your feelings."

Joe Clementi, 55, public works director in Hawthorne, said that the next afternoon he took his son for a car ride.

"I told him, 'You've got to be careful. Not everyone is as accepting as some people are.' "

After moving to a Rutgers residence hall, Clementi would talk with his parents every four or five days, with text messages in between. There was no sign of problems, his parents said.

But court documents show that Clementi's text messages to some friends told a different story. In one series of messages, he wrote that he had come out to his family, and "mom has basically completely rejected me."

Jane Clementi said she had not tried to convey that, "though maybe children see things differently."