A memorial website was set up within hours of Miss Randall’s death
Police fear internet cult inspires teen suicides driven by a desire to achieve prestige by having a memorial website set up in their name.
By Nick Britten and Richard Savill
Detectives fear a bizarre suicide craze is sweeping through teenagers in a small town fuelled by chat on social networking sites after seven friends took their own lives.
As well as the deaths during the last 12 months, several more have attempted suicide and police fear they are being driven by a desire to achieve prestige by having a memorial website set up in their name.
Many of the victims had their own web pages on the social networking site Bebo, which they spent hours on each day. After their deaths a special site is set up where friends can leave messages, photographs and videos.
Police have visited the parents of every member of a 20-strong group who they are most worried about warning them to keep a close eye on their children.
The latest victim is Natasha Randall, 17, who was found hanged at her family home last Thursday. Within 24 hours two of her friends had tried to kill themselves. One 15-year-old girl was on a life support machine yesterday while the other, also 15, was recovering after slitting her wrists.
Police, who are investigating a possible suicide chain, fear the teenagers think it is “cool” to have an internet memorial site and are killing themselves to achieve kudos among their peer group.
Within hours of Miss Randall’s death, a tribute site called “R.I.P. Tasha” had sprung up with photos, videos and messages. It has 345 members been viewed more than 2,100 times.
Her death follows those of Gareth Morgan, 27, Liam Clarke, 20, Thomas Davies, 20, David Dilling, 19, Dale Crole, 18, and Zachary Barnes, 17. Like Miss Randall, all lived in and around Bridgend in south Wales and all are being linked.
Miss Randall was in her first year on a Care and Childhood Studies course at Bridgend College. Her stepmother, Katrina, said the teenager spent hours every day on her computer using the name “Wildchild”.
She said: “The police have been and taken Natasha’s computer away to help with their investigation. This has come as a shock to all of us. We’re just too upset to speak about it, her dad especially.”
Thomas Davies’ mother, Melanie, 38, said: “It’s like a craze – a stupid sort of fad. They all seem to be copying each other by wanting to die.
“I think the problem is they do not know how to speak like adults about serious issues like this. They can speak to each other on the computer but do not know how to express their emotions in other ways.
“He did go on Bebo and apparently he had a page on there. He must have discussed his other friends dying on there because it had upset him.
“Like most parents, I have no idea how to get on these sites or what other kids are talking about. But I would warn other parents to beware and to keep a close eye on their children.”
A police source said: “Parents should keep a close watch on what their children are doing on the internet and what they are talking about.
“It’s often easier for them to disclose their real feelings on a computer rather than face to face with an adult or even their friends, and social networking sites are the ideal way to do that.”
Madeleine Moon, Bridgend MP, has met with senior police officers to discuss Bridgend’s alarmingly high suicide rate. The Bridgend and Glamorgan Valleys Coroner, Phillip Walters, has also raised his concerns and a special “task force” has been set up in the town to investigate the problem.
Consultant psychiatrist Tegwyn Williams, director of mental health services for the NHS Trust, said: “Unfortunately there’s a culture where men don’t tend to talk about how they feel. It comes to the point where they can’t see any way out.
“The key is to break down the stigma attached to suicide in the community so that people aren’t afraid to talk to someone of they feel depressed.”
It comes after the deaths of three teenagers in a suicide pact in a small village in Northern Ireland in the summer.