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‘Under the Bridge’ True Story: Reena Virk’s Murder

Poster for Under the Bridge, photo of the real Reena Vik, whose true story is explored in this article

Hulu’s Under the Bridge is based on a book of the same name that explores the true story behind the murder of Reena Virk.

Now that Hulu’s Under the Bridge is well underway, it’s time to explore the true story behind 14-year-old Reena Virk’s murder and the aftermath that followed. But, before you venture any further, be forewarned that this true story will reveal things that have not yet taken place in the series. So, if you don’t want to be spoiled, go ahead and skip this but be sure to come back and read it after the last episode airs on May 29.

While Hulu’s Under the Bridge aligns with the major facts of the case to give us the gist of what happened, it fictionalizes many of the smaller details of the story, like changing names, erasing relationships between main characters and their parent(s), and replacing the two key characters responsible for notifying police of Reena’s murder (and for getting details about it) with author-insert Rebecca Godfrey. Furthermore, there was no Officer Cam Bentland, and there was no relationship of any kind between Godfrey and Cam. So, what’s the true story, morning glory?

What’s the real story of Under the Bridge?

Riley Keough in a still from Under the Bridge, featured in an article about the true story behind the series and Reena Virk’s Murder
‘Under the Bridge’ True Story: Reena Virk’s Murder – Riley Keough in a still from the series (Bettina Strauss / Hulu)

Set in 1997 Saanich, Canada in the quiet suburbs of Victoria, British Columbia, Under the Bridge is based on late author Rebecca Godfrey’s 2005 book of the same name and chronicles the real-life disappearance and murder of 14-year-old Reena Virk. Virk, a Canadian-Punjabi teenager, went missing the night of November 14 after attending a local party, where she was not only ganged up on and bullied but was also chased to under Craigflower Bridge, where she was savagely attacked, beaten, then tracked down and murdered after she escaped. And what’s worse is that these senseless acts were committed by a group of her peers, which made the heinous crime a media sensation thanks to the moral panic surrounding teenage “girl violence” at the time.

Under the Bridge unfolds around Godfrey’s investigation into the gruesome murder and is told from her perspective. Having grown up in Saanich, Godfrey, who was living in New York at the time of the murder, returned home to write a book on teen girls growing up in the area, and how they’re often misunderstood and overlooked. When she finds out about Reena, the focus of her books shifts to the murder investigation, which winds up implicating seven teens: one boy, Warren Glowatski, and six girls, dubbed the Shoreline Six: Kelly Ellard, Nicole Cook, Nicole Patterson, Courtney Keith, Gail Ooms, and Virk’s best friend, Missy Grace Pleich.

Who was Reena Virk?

Vritika Gupta sits on a bench in a still from Under the Bridge, featured in an article about the true story behind the series and Reena Virk’s Murder
‘Under the Bridge’ True Story: Reena Virk’s Murder – Vritika Gupta is Reena in a still from the series (Bettina Strauss / Hulu)

Born to an Indian father and an Indo-Canadian mother, who were both devout Jehovah’s Witnesses, Reena Virk was a fan of East Coast hip-hop and blue nail polish. According to her father, Manjit, Reena grew up feeling like an outsider and had a tumultuous relationship with her parents. She was known to rebel against them frequently due to “a difficult teenage life” that included running away from home and smoking marijuana with her friends—and by friends, I mean the group of troubled girls of the Shoreline Six.

Reena also falsely accused her father of sexual abuse to prove herself to the one mean girl she idolized, to gain freedom from her parents, and so she could stay at the same group home where her “friends” lived. For a short time in 1996, Reena was placed in foster care but, shortly after, the charges against her father were dropped and she returned home.

Throughout her youth, Virk reportedly had been the victim of relentless bullying by her classmates for her weight, appearance, and religion, and for allegedly spreading untrue rumors about the mean girl in charge, Nicole Cook (in the series, her name is Josephine Bell).

What really happened to Reena Virk?

Reena Virk
‘Under the Bridge’ True Story: Reena Virk’s Murder – A photo of Reena Virk (CBC)

On November 14, 1997, Reena was invited to a party by a group of schoolmates, including two she’d met through the foster care system. The gathering took place behind the school but relocated to the nearby Craigflower Bridge after police broke it up. Once there, Cook confronted Reena about the rumors she was spreading and would later claim in an interview that Reena called her “a bitch”, which prompted Cook to extinguish her cigarette on Reena’s forehead. While police couldn’t prove it (mostly because they didn’t investigate it from this standpoint), the burn begged the question of whether Reena’s attack and subsequent death were racially motivated.

After that, Cook’s best friend, Kelly Ellard, along with the rest of the Shoreline Six, hit, punched, and kicked Reena everywhere they could. The attack continued until Reena managed to stand up and stagger across the bridge toward a bus stop to make her way home. Two of teens who participated in the attack, Warren Glowataski, 16, and Kelly Ellard, 15, went after Reena and dragged her back to the water, where they beat her and drowned her in Victoria’s Gorge Waterway inlet. Eight days later, authorities recovered her partially clothed body and found extensive “internal injuries to her back and abdomen that were consistent with being kicked and stomped” and “a convulsion injury as often seen in car crash victims”.

After several other teens told police that Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski were the ones who ultimately killed Reena, Glowatski eventually confessed.

What happened to the Shoreline Six?

A police officer walks behind a teenagers, holding her handcuffed hands behind her back
‘Under the Bridge’ True Story: Reena Virk’s Murder – A still from the show (Bettina Strauss / Hulu)

In February 1998, the girls who participated in the initial ambush, but were not involved in drowning Reena, were prosecuted in youth court. They were all charged with and convicted of assault causing bodily harm and received a 60-day custodial sentence to one year in jail. Cook went on to work as an exotic dancer in biker bars after serving a year in juvie. Her sentence was extended after she escaped … twice. Missy Pleich was one of the only teens who spoke openly about her regrets around the crime to the press, stating, “We should have got more time. We were monsters.”

The murder trial for Virk began in 1999 with Warren Glowatski, who was then 18. He was tried as an adult and convicted of second-degree murder before being sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for seven years. Warren devoted his life to restorative justice, in conjunction with connecting with the Métis Nation and his Native heritage. He was ultimately granted parole in 2010 after Reena’s parents forgave him and advocated on his behalf.

Kelly Ellard’s trial followed in 2000. She, too, was tried as an adult and convicted of second-degree murder. Ellard appealed, was granted two additional trials, and was ultimately sentenced to life in prison in a legal battle that would span over a decade. After denying involvement in Reena’s murder across the years, she finally took responsibility in 2016, while seeking day parole. She now has two children of her own.

The Virks have become symbols of anti-bullying activism across Canada. Manjit went on to write a book about his daughter called “Reena: A Father’s Story”, which was included in the development of this series. Suman passed away in 2018.

Author Rebecca Godfrey passed away in 2022, just weeks before filming for Under the Bridge began, and after much involvement in its development. She and Warren kept in touch for over twenty years.

The first episodes of Under the Bridge are now available to watch on Hulu, with new episodes released weekly, every Wednesday, for a total of 8 episodes with the finale airing on May 29. Start your free Hulu trial and read our recaps-reviews of every episode of Under the Bridge!

Under the Bridge: Episodes 1 & 2 Review – Loud And Clear Reviews
In episodes 1 and 2, Hulu series Under the Bridge explores a grisly true-crime tale of a shocking teen murder that rattled the world.

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