Tragedy of the suicide-pact teenage girls who met in internet chatroom

Police investigate overdose death of 13-year-old who vanished last week as her friend recovers in hospital
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The Independent Online

They struck up a friendship a year ago, no doubt swapping tales about crushes and school over the internet like thousands of other ordinary teenagers. But the relationship between 13-year-old Laura Rhodes and Rebecca Ling, 14, was to prove fatal.

They struck up a friendship a year ago, no doubt swapping tales about crushes and school over the internet like thousands of other ordinary teenagers. But the relationship between 13-year-old Laura Rhodes and Rebecca Ling, 14, was to prove fatal.

Laura was dead and Rebecca seriously ill in hospital yesterday after an apparent, bizarre suicide pact. Their devastated parents are still trying to comprehend why two intelligent - and seemingly happy - girls would want to take their own lives with an overdose of pills.

The first indications of trouble started last week. After flying back from a family holiday together on the Greek island of Crete, the pair chose to run away together.

They went missing for three days but were found safe and well on Friday and returned home by police.

Laura and Rebecca were found at Laura's home in Neath, south Wales, yesterday morning, suffering from the after-effects of suspected overdoses. Laura was pronounced dead. Her friend, who lives in Longbridge, Birmingham, was reported to be in a stable condition in hospital.

The police officers investigating the tragedy are expected to focus on how they changed from chatroom buddies to runaways united in an apparent death wish.

There is no evidence to suggest either had surfed sites which specialise in promoting suicide and self-harm but the news of their suicide pact is bound to increase concerns about the safety of internet chatrooms.

The two had become friends after making contact on the MSN Messenger internet chatroom. They had met a few times and Laura had stayed with Rebecca for a week at her home in Birmingham earlier this year.

They apparently had no worries at home or at school but the pair clearly had secrets which they only shared with each other.

Police have said it was "out of character" for Rebecca, who has a younger brother and sister, to go missing. Laura, however, had gone missing once before, leaving home last December.

They disappeared on Wednesday after being dropped off at Neath railway station so they could say goodbye after their break on Crete. Rebecca had been expected to travel back on the 4pm train to her home but the alarm was raised when neither girl returned.

Officers searched the Neath and Birmingham area in case both girls had boarded the train. South Wales Police announced on Friday that they had been found "safe and well" at a bed and breakfast hotel in Bath, Somerset, and the girls were taken back to Laura's home in Neath.

However, it was discovered early yesterday morning that both had taken an overdose of pills and they were taken to hospital. Family liaison officers have been brought in to comfort the girls' families.

Until Rebecca comes round from unconsciousness, their motives will remain a secret. It is understood that she did wake up once but then drifted back to sleep. Police have been unable to interview her. For now, all her mother, Alison Ling, can do is wait at her daughter's bedside at Morriston Hospital in Swansea, south Wales.

Neil Fisher, Mrs Ling's boyfriend, said no one knows where the girls got the tablets from. "It's such a strange story. Nobody knows how they got hold of the tablets or when they took them," said Mr Fisher, speaking from the family home in Longbridge, Birmingham.

"There was relief last night that the police had found them but this now has broken all our hearts."

Mr Fisher, 32, described Laura as a friendly outgoing girl. "I broke down in tears when I found out Laura went, but there's nothing we can do."

South Wales police confirmed last night that they were investigating Laura's death. It is not being treated as suspicious, however, they said. The coroner has been informed and a post mortem examination will be held.