Bridgend suicides: 'I feel shaken to the core. Why are youngsters around here doing this?'

A 'bubbly and care-free' 16-year-old girl is the latest youngster in the Bridgend area to commit suicide. By Mark Hughes
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The Independent Online

Bridgend was yesterday mourning yet another addition to the alarming number of suicides in the area, after a 16-year-old girl was found hanged in a wood five miles from the town.

Jenna Parry is the 17th young person to take her own life since January 2007.

Police insisted there was no link between the 17 deaths in the past 13 months and no evidence of a suicide pact or an internet cult.

Jenna's death came just days after two cousins died after apparent suicide attempts. Kelly Stephenson, 20, was found dead in a bathroom during a family holiday. Hours earlier she had learnt that her 15-year-old cousin, Nathaniel Pritchard, had hanged himself. The two lived a few doors away from each other in Bridgend.

Yesterday, Jenna's father Paul, 44, was said to be too upset to speak about his daughter's death. However friends of the teenager paid tribute to her.

Daniel John, 20, said: "It has been an absolute shock. She was so bubbly and carefree; I can't imagine why she would take her own life. She loved butterflies and was very girly. She loved pop music and dance music. I last spoke to her yesterday and she seemed normal – perfectly fine. I can't get my head around why she has done this."

Lisa Jones, the mother of Jenna's best friend Jessica, added: "She had everything to live for – this is just so awful. I can't understand what is going on around here."

Her thoughts were echoed by Michael Bennett, the 61-year-old security guard who found Jenna's body. "It was so shocking to find this poor young girl hanging from this tree. I feel shaken to the core by this. Why are youngsters around here doing this? I can't understand it at all. People of my generation can't explain it all – what is going on around here?"

Following the deaths, a suicide prevention strategy has been announced for Wales. The Welsh Assembly has said it wants a 10 per cent reduction in suicides by 2012. Suicide rates among men in Wales are the highest in the UK. In Bridgend, three 15 to 24-year-old men committed suicide on average every year between 1996 and 2006.

However, despite the spate of suicides around Bridgend – a county with a population of 130,000 people – police have said there is nothing to link the deaths.

At a press conference yesterday, Assistant Chief Constable Dave Morris said a review into the deaths was ongoing. He confirmed that all of the youngsters who had killed themselves in the past 13 months used social-networking internet sites such as MySpace and Bebo, but added: "We haven't found any suggestion of a link or influence through those sites.

"In this day and age young people use the internet to talk to each other and record their thoughts. What we have found is that these are vulnerable young people, and taking one's own life may be becoming an acceptable option to young people for issues that they are facing."

Mr Morris criticised the media's reporting of the deaths. "The media reporting is influencing young people in the Bridgend area.

"I have noticed an increase in sensationalist reporting, and the fact that Bridgend is becoming stigmatised. The link between the deaths isn't the internet – it is the way the media is reporting the news."

Madeleine Moon, the Labour MP for Bridgend, said: "There is nothing glamorous about taking your own life. It's going to be tough, hard and painful for the families left behind. The media is part of the problem and I ask them to be part of the solution. Give friends and families the space they need."

The parents of Nathaniel Pritchard also blamed their son's death on media coverage. Nathaniel's mother, Sharon, said: "Media coverage put the idea into Nathaniel's head. We have lost our son and media reporting of this has made it an incredibly difficult time and more unbearable."

The victims

Dale Crole, 18 Found hanged, 5 January 2007

David Dilling, 19 Found hanged in his home, February 2007

Thomas Davies, 20 Found hanged from a tree, 25 February 2007

Allyn Price, 21 Found hanged in his bedroom, April 2007

James Knight, 26 Found hanged at his home, 17 May 2007

Leigh Jenkins, 22 Found hanged, June 2007

Zachery Barnes, 17 Found hanged from a washing line, August 2007

Jason Williams, 21 Found hanged at home, 23 August 2007

Andrew O'Neill, 19 Found hanged at home, September 2007

Luke Goodridge, 20 Found hanged, November 2007

Liam Clarke, 20 Found hanged, 27 December 2007

Gareth Morgan, 27 Found hanged, 5 January

Natasha Randall, 17 Found hanged, 17 January

Angie Fuller, 18 Found hanged, 4 February

Kelly Stephenson, 20 Kelly, from Bridgend, was found hanged on 14 February while on holiday

Nathaniel Pritchard, 15 Kelly's cousin, found hanged, died 15 February