Teenage 'chatroom' suicides shock Britain
Jan 24, 2008, 13:51 GMT
London - First-year college student Natasha Randall was much liked by her friends, seemed happy and was not on drugs.
A week ago, the 17-year-old hanged herself in her bedroom in what police believe to be a chain of 'copycat suicides' fuelled by the desire to become 'tragic heroes' on the internet.
Natasha was the first girl to die in a series of seven apparently unexplained suicides of youngsters that has alarmed parents, the health authorities and the police in Bridgend, a small town of 2,000 people in Wales, western Britain.
In the 12 months before Natasha's death, six young men, aged between 18 and 27, from Bridgend and the surrounding area, had killed themselves. Most were known to each other.
Earlier in January, Natasha had attended the funeral of her friend Liam Clarke, 20, who was found hanged in a local park over Christmas.
Natasha, using the web name 'Wildchild,' had left a tribute to Liam on a message page created for him on Bebo, a social networking site popular with youngsters.
'Rest in peace, Clarky boy!! gonna miss ya! always remember the gd times!,' she wrote.
A 'memorial page' created for Natasha carries the entries: 'Sleep tight, princess' and 'Sweet dreams, angel.'
'Tasha would talk about hanging a lot. She was fascinated by it. Suicide had become a cool thing in our area,' Annie-Marie Eagle, Natasha's 17-year-old friend, told the Sun newspaper Thursday.
The parents of the youngsters have been telling newspapers that, even worse than their grief was 'not knowing why' their children took their lives.
South Wales police, who are investigating Natasha's computer, believe that the explanation for her death could lie in what experts describe as a search for 'virtual immortality.'
'They (young people) may think it's cool to have a memorial website. It may even be a way of achieving prestige among their peer group,' one officer told the Times newspaper.
However, social researchers believe that the known connection between suicide reports in the media and copycat deaths would have an 'even more direct impact' on young people using teenage chatrooms on the internet.
'In bedrooms all over the western world, children and adults are isolated from reality, worshipping the altar of the internet,' the Daily Mail said Thursday.
From being ordinary children with problems and all the angst of growing up, children came to believe that death could make them 'tragic heroes,' the paper commented.
'It's like the first person who commits suicide becomes a sort of role model for those who follow,' US psychologist Madelyn Gould of Columbia University told the BBC Thursday.
She urged parents to 'address these issues honestly' with their children and 'above all not to ignore it's going on.'© 2008 dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur