The Twisted True Story Behind ‘Under the Bridge’

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The Twisted True Story Behind ‘Under the Bridge’Hulu
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This story contains spoilers for Hulu’s Under the Bridge.

Hulu’s new series Under the Bridge explores the dangers of bullying and how a set of split-second decisions can lead to dire consequences. The show, which was created by Quinn Shepard and Samir Mehta, is based on a horrifying true story. Set in 1997, Under the Bridge follows the death and disappearance of Reena Virk, a fourteen-year-old girl who went missing after attending a party with her friends.

Under the Bridge is adapted from Rebecca Godfrey’s award-winning book of the same name, which details Virk’s murder trial and probes the lives of her friends—many of whom had a hand in her demise. Unlike many other true-crime books, it empathizes with the perpetrators and, instead of casting blame, questions how the tragedy occurred rather than why it happened. Godfrey spent six years investigating Virk’s case, and the book includes interviews with the accused.

Hulu’s adaptation isn’t an exact retelling of Godfrey’s book, but it builds upon her material to share Virk’s story with a new generation. Keep reading if you want to learn more about Virk and the heartbreaking events that inspired Under the Bridge.

Who Was Reena Virk?

Reena Virk was a fourteen-year-old girl who went missing on November 14, 1997. She lived near Victoria Falls, a quaint island in Vancouver, Canada. Her father, Manjit, was an immigrant from India. Her mother, Suman, was a converted Jehovah's Witness.

Virk had a rocky relationship with her parents. CBS News reported that she falsely accused her father of sexual, physical, and mental abuse so that she could live at a foster home. Virk eventually dropped the charges, but her parents blamed social services for mishandling the case. “These people are trained professionals and they couldn’t clue in that this child was a total storyteller,” Suman told Victoria Times-Colonist, per CBC News. “They failed miserably,” she continued. “There is no excuse for how they failed.”

a person sitting on a bench in front of a yellow school bus
Vritika Gupta as Reena Virk.Hulu

Godfrey’s book, which she unpacked with Vice, describes Virk as an ordinary teenager who loved rap music and wore blue nail polish. At the time of her death, Virk was desperate to fit in and admired a clique of troubled girls, especially the clique’s ringleader, Nicole Cook—whose counterpart is seemingly Josephine Bell in the television show.

Vritika Gupta, who plays Virk in Under the Bridge, told Today that her character felt authentic to the teenage experience. “The show did such a phenomenal job on really portraying how teenagers think,” she said. “I’m a teen myself, and I think we all have our moments of not fitting in. I think we’ve all walked into a room and felt different, and I think that portrayal was so important in the show and was really well done.”

What Happened to Reena Virk?

Reena Virk was attacked and murdered by her peers. After an argument with Cook, she stole her phonebook and called everyone in it, spreading rumors that Cook had AIDs, fake breasts, and colored contacts.

Later on, Virk was invited to a party beneath the Gorge Waterway Bridge. There, Cook confronted Virk about the rumors. In MSNBC’s Bloodlust Under the Bridge, she admitted to putting a cigarette out on Virk's forehead after Virk allegedly called her a “bitch.” The marking resembled a Bindi, which, in the show, is discussed as evidence of a potential hate crime.

Afterward, Cook’s friend, Kelly Ellard, and a group of kids reportedly punched and kicked Virk. She survived the initial attack and managed to walk away, but Ellard and a boy named Warren Glowatski followed her. They continued the assault, which resulted in Virk's death. Vice reports that Virk’s injuries resembled the trauma of a car crash victim, and her autopsy found gravel in her lungs, indicating that she was forcibly drowned.

a person sitting at a table
Izzy G. as Kelly Ellard.Hulu

Who Was Convicted of Reena Virk’s Murder?

Eight teenagers were involved in the attack—and a group of them were nicknamed The Shoreline Six. Though they didn’t directly kill Virk, they were held partially responsible for her death. That group includes Nicole Cook, Nicole Patterson, Missy Grace Pleich, Courtney Keith, Gail Ooms, and another child who wasn’t named, likely due to her age at the time of the assault.

Ellard and Glowatski, however, were tried as adults and were not protected from the press. Both Ellard and Glowatski had numerous trials, resulting in extensive prison sentences. At first, they were found guilty of second-degree murder, but Ellard’s sentence was appealed. In the second hearing, Glowatski provided more details about the murder and expressed remorse for the incident. That time, the case ended in a mistrial.

When they were tried a third time, Ellard was found guilty of second-degree murder again. She was sentenced to life in prison. Glowatski received a life sentence as well, with a chance at parole after seven years. According to People, he enrolled in restorative justice programs in prison and apologized to Virk’s parents. Her mother told the press, “We would have hoped that somebody would have learned something from this whole thing, and so far, it looks like Warren has done that. Out of all the accused in this whole process, he’s the only one that’s done that.”

In 2007, Glowatski received day parole, and in 2010, he was granted full parole, per reports from The Globe and Mail. Ellard, per CBC, had a child in prison and was granted day parole in 2017. In May 2022, she was offered full parole, but declined.

a man sitting at a table
Javon Walton as Warren Glowatski.Hulu

What Happened to Reena Virk’s Family?

Virk’s mother, Suman, spearheaded anti-bullying campaigns after the case was settled. In 2009, Manjit published the book, Reena: A Father's Story, which details his experience fighting for justice. The book also criticizes social services for believing falsified claims of sexual assault and having Virk removed from their home. Manjit told CBS News, per People, that it was important for him to share their story. “I think people have to also see that any normal family, no matter how they try hard to keep their family intact, they can be derailed by this system. I think that’s what has happened here, and I hope others can find something about the book that they can use in their lives.”

Manjit and his wife kept in contact with Glowatski while he served his prison sentence. In 2009, Suman told the Victoria Times Colonist that connecting with Glowatski provided her with closure. According to the Vancouver Sun, she said, “You don’t really want to sit down and talk to the person who has taken your child's life. Seeing what he had to say for himself, it doesn’t make things right or take away the pain, but you can let go of the questions you have and put it behind you. It gave us a voice to say whatever we needed to.”

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