Police are insisting that the suicides of two young cousins in the Welsh town of Bridgend are not linked to 14 other suicides in the area over the past year.
Fears of a “suicide cult” resurfaced in the South Wales county after Nathaniel Pritchard, 15, and Kelly Stephenson, 20, hanged themselves.
However, the local assembly member Carwyn Jones dismissed rumours of a suicide cult as “absolute nonsense”. The deaths were not in one town, but spread out across “a county of 130,000 people”, and between many of the victims there were “no connection at all”.
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It is thought that the latest suicide victims, who lived on the same street in the town, could have taken part in a death pact.
Miss Stephenson was on a family holiday in Folkestone, Kent, when she heard of her cousin’s attempt on his life.
A relative confirmed that she hanged herself after being told that there was little chance he would pull through.
The schoolboy, the youngest so far to take his own life, was still alive when he was found on Wednesday night in an attic room in Cefn Glas, Bridgend, but died yesterday when his life-support machine was turned off.
His cousin’s body was discovered late on Thursday night. She had hanged herself from a shower rail after saying she was going to the bathroom.
Sixteen young people, aged 15 to 27, from Bridgend and the surrounding area have hanged themselves since January last year. Police maintained last night that there was “no evidence” that any of the deaths were linked.
Mr Jones, the Bridgend AM, told BBC News Online: “Bridgend is not some kind of suicide town,” he said. “I’ve been stunned by what I’ve seen in some of the newspapers – saying it’s a highly-depressed sea-side mining town is just completely mad.
“Young suicides are a problem everywhere. These suicides aren’t in one town here either – it’s a county of 130,000 people.
“There’s nothing sinister here at all. They live a long way apart. A small number of youngsters know each other socially, but between many of them there’s no connection at all.”
Bridgend, which has about 20 suicides each year on average, does not have the worst suicide rate in Wales, he added. It is sixth on the list.
However, Mr Jones admitted the suicide rate has been higher recently.
“But the idea that there’s a link here, or internet cult, is absolute nonsense,” he added. “Every single case is now being reported to the nth degree, which makes it appear worse than it is.”
Nevertheless, that the town was at the centre of a suicide “cluster” appeared undeniable.
Some believe that young people have incited each other on social networking websites such as Bebo and Facebook. Both the latest victims were members of the two sites. On her Bebo page Miss Stephenson said her biggest fear was “losing the people I love”.
But no evidence had emerged that she had been encouraged via the internet to commit suicide. Miss Stephenson was friends with two of the previous victims, Gareth Morgan, 27, and Liam Clarke, 20, who died last year.
A relative of the cousins said: “Kelly was friends with both boys but whether this had anything to do with what has happened we just don’t know.
“We just don’t understand what is going on in Bridgend. Kelly and Nathaniel were both brilliant kids with good futures ahead of them. We would never have thought in a million years that they were capable of anything like this.”
Miss Stephenson was a keen footballer and had recently signed for a local team, Porthcawl Lightnin Strikers.
Tony Morgan, the team’s manager, said: “It is a shock and another tragedy involving a young person.”
Tributes to Nathaniel began appearing on his Bebo site within hours of his death. One said: “I’ve known u all my life. 4 u to do this is unreal M8. Hope you are happier where you are.”
Philip Walters, the Bridgend and Glamorgan Valleys coroner, said last month that he was “desperately concerned” about the number of suicides.
However, earlier this month he told an inquest that there was “no commonality between these deaths”.