The death toll in a small town hit by a spate of suicides rose to 16 yesterday when two young cousins were found hanged. They died hours apart, leaving the South Wales community of Bridgend reeling from the continuing string of tragedies.

Nathaniel Pritchard, 15, was still alive when he was discovered in an attic room at the family home on Wednesday but died yesterday morning when his life-support machine was turned off.

His cousin Kelly Stephenson, 20, had been told of Nathaniel's suicide bid while she was on holiday in Folkestone, Kent, and warned there was little hope he would survive.

Kelly - who knew two of the young men who died last year - was found dead shortly after midnight yesterday by a relative.

South Wales police and Bridgend coroner Philip Walters said they did not believe the apparent suicides were linked and played down any connection with internet sites.

A task force involving police, social services, health and education officials has been set up to investigate the series of tragedies and discussions have taken place at government level over the spate of young deaths - all by hanging - which started in January 2007.

Earlier this week it emerged that another nine similar hangings, not all involving young people, had occurred in the last two months in neighbouring valleys.

A relative of the cousins said: "We just don't know 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.

"None of this makes sense and both families are devastated at what has happened."

Kelly and Nathaniel lived 14 houses apart in Bridgend and friends described the cousins, both members of the Bebo and Facebook social networking sites, as "very close".

Nathaniel was found at the family home in Cefn Glas, Bridgend, on Wednesday night and was taken to hospital, where he later died.

South Wales Police said: "There is no evidence to suggest this incident is linked to any other incidents or sudden deaths in the area."

Keen sportswoman Kelly - who knew Gareth Morgan, 27, and Liam Clarke, 20, who died last year - told a relative she was going to the bathroom but when she failed to return they went to investigate, and found her dead.

Kent Police said: "Officers are making inquiries but there are not believed to be any suspicious circumstances."

Kelly, who called herself Baby-Girl-Kelly on Bebo, wrote on the site: "I just love to live life to the full ... Always up 4 a laugh and don't like takin things to serious!!

"Alcohol is one of my favourite things. I loves to go out and get drunk and have a laugh with mates."

Kelly had pictures of her cousin Nathaniel on her website and on one of her Bebo pages there are photographs and tributes to three other victims, Liam Clarke, Natasha Randall and Zachary Barnes.

One of Kelly's internet friends said: "It's going crazy down in Bridgend and it's not going to stop. No one can understand what is going on.

"I know seven of the people who have killed themselves. People are saying it's got something to do with the internet but I don't believe that. But then I can't explain it either.

"I saw Kelly a month ago and she was fine - smiling and laughing."

Bridgend MP Madeleine Moon secured a debate in the House of Commons last week on suicide prevention. Talking about the Bridgend tragedies, she told MPs: "The media have asked whether the cause is the internet, Bebo, Facebook or other networking sites. The answer is yes and no.

"I believe there is a risk from spending too much time in the alternative reality of computer games and chat rooms. I also believe that for a vulnerable person who is contemplating suicide, the isolation of communication through words on a screen does not provide the warmth, humanity, compassion and empathy of talking to another person."

Philip Walter, Coroner for Bridgend and the Glamorgan valleys, said earlier this month that he had profound doubts about any "copycat" theory connecting the series of suicides.

"I'm of the mind that there is no commonality between these deaths, and preliminary investigations say the same," he said.

The two latest deaths have sent shockwaves through the small town where a special task force has been set up to look into the string of tragedies.

Manager Tony Morgan, who recently signed Kelly for local team Porthcawl Lighnin Strikers, said: "She had only played one game for us - I couldn't pick her for this weekend because she was going away on holiday.

"It is a shock and another tragedy involving a young person. Everyone at the club will be shocked."

Tributes were yesterday being posted to Nathaniel's Bebo site where he used the nickname Pritch.

One said: "What happened m8? Going to miss you. Cannot believed what has happened. There is no better place for you than down here. But I will no now that u r safer up there m8. Sleep tight."

Another said: "I've known u all my life. 4 u to do this is unreal M8. Hope you are happier where you are."

All 16 victims, who were under the age of 26 and from Bridgend, hanged themselves in the suicide spate which started in January 2007.

The full death register is now Dale Crole, 18, David Dilling, 19, Thomas Davies, 20, Zachary Barnes, 17, Gareth Morgan, 27, James Knight, 26, Jason Williams, 21, Andrew O'Neill, 19, Leigh Jenkins, 22, Liam Clarke, 20, Alan Price, 21, Luke Goodridge, 20, Natasha Randall, 17, Angie Fuller, 18, Kelly Stephenson, 20, and Nathaniel Pritchard, 15.

Parents had already been horrified at the rate of hangings and one secondary school was placed on "suicide watch" after pupils appealed for help.