LONDON – Seven young people in an area of southern Wales have died in the last 12 months in what is feared to be a spate of suicides.
Police said Wednesday they were examining the computer of a teenager found hanged last week. Natasha Randall, 17, was found dead in her bedroom in Bridgend, south Wales.
Six young men between the ages of 17 and 27 have been found dead in apparent suicides in the 40,000-population town and surrounding area in the past year.
Media reports have focused on the fact that Randall belonged to the social networking site Bebo, and had left a message on the site in tribute to one of the dead men, 20-year-old Liam Clarke, who was found hanged in a park in Bridgend last month.
"We don't know if it is some weird cult or copycat suicides or if they have had some bizarre pact to kill themselves," Liam's father, Kevin Clarke, was quoted as saying by the Daily Mail newspaper on Wednesday.
Bridgend Police Superintendent Tim Jones said detectives were examining Randall's computer.
"The investigation will seek to establish the full circumstances surrounding these tragic circumstances (of Randall's death), and clearly communication between friends and associates is an important consideration," Jones said.
Police said they had concluded investigations into the other six cases.
Coroners' inquests — required by British law when someone dies unexpectedly, violently or of unknown causes — have so far been held into three of the deaths, and found the young men committed suicide. The other inquests are pending.
While media speculation focused on the role of social networking Internet sites in linking the dead youths, coroner Philip Walters said he had found no such connection.
Walters said the suicide rate in south Wales — a postindustrial region with a high poverty rate — had grown "year on year" over the past three years, prompting authorities to set up a group of police officers, educators and health care workers in response. He did not give specific numbers for the suicide rate.
"You can't link any of the deaths to these Web sites," he said. "There was no mention of them in any of the inquests that have already taken place."
Police said they were looking into Randall's online contacts as part of their investigation, but said there appeared to be "no common link" between the deaths.
"It's not the case that they are a group of friends," a spokeswoman said on the force's customary condition of anonymity. "Some of them might know each other because it is a relatively small community."
Rosemary Vaux of Papyrus, a charity committed to the prevention of youth suicide, said she feared media speculation about a rash of suicides would encourage other teens to take their own lives.
There was a danger the story could get "too hyped up," she said. "Our charity is concerned that overt reporting could lead to a state of hysteria which could lead to further copycat suicides."