Under the Bridge: True Story Behind Hulu Show, Explained

Created by Quinn Shephard, ‘Under the Bridge’ follows an author as she investigates a group of teen girls involved in the death of 14-year-old Reena Virk. Rebecca Godfrey returns to Victoria after a decade when a troubled teenager, Reena Virk, goes missing. The police question a group of rebellious high school girls who were seen under the bridge along with Virk but fail to glean any information from them. When the missing girl’s body is discovered in the Gorge waterway, the postmortem report identifies the cause of death as drowning, which was preceded by a severe beating.

The Hulu crime miniseries presents a chilling narrative that unfurls around the quaint British Columbian community in the 1990s. Rebecca’s independent investigation gives us an outsider’s perspective into the unfamiliar dynamics of the town and its social stigmas. As the author’s search unearths dark truths surrounding the brutal murder, the narrative warrants further investigation regarding its authenticity.

Under the Bridge is Based on the Case of Reena Virk’s Murder

‘Under the Bridge’ narrates the horrifying true events surrounding Reena Virk’s murder that shook British Columbia in 1997. The series is based on Rebecca Godfrey’s book of the same name and inspired by Manjit Virk’s book, ‘Reena: A Father’s Story.’ Both works center on the killing of an Indo-Canadian girl, Reena Virk, by seven teenagers, six of whom were high school girls. Hailing from an Indian immigrant family, Reena Virk craved the acceptance of her peers along with greater freedom at home, resulting in her living in a youth home. On November 14, 1997, she went to a party under the Craigflower Bridge.

At the party, Reena was swarmed by the Shoreline Six, some of whom had personal animosity and jealousy towards her. The group began to severely beat her, stubbing their cigarettes on her skin while punching and kicking her. As they walked away from a limping Reena, two teens from the group, Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski, followed her and continued to beat her unconscious. The two then rolled her into the Gorge Waterway and drowned her. When she was reported missing, the Saanich Police Department initially considered her a runaway. But when circulating school rumors of the murder reached two Russian sisters who had lived with Reena in the youth home, they contacted the police, revealing the unexpected truth.

When the case went to court, all the perpetrators eventually confessed to the crime, with five of the female perpetrators receiving prison sentences ranging from one month to one year. Due to the severity of their actions, Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski were tried as adults, found guilty of second-degree murder, and sentenced to life imprisonment. While Warren Glowatski expressed remorse and eventually told the entire story to the jury as a part of his restorative justice program, Kelly Ellard kept fighting the case until it reached the Supreme Court. Her life sentence was upheld by the court, with no parole for seven years.

Of all the teens put on trial for the murder, Kelly Ellard was the only one hailing from a well-off and supportive family. Only Kelly Ellard and Warren Glowatski’s real names are used in the Hulu miniseries, while all the other perpetrators are given aliases. Josephine Bell, whose personal vendetta initiated the beatdown, was actually Nicole Cook, a resident of the youth home who went back to the crime scene after the murder and hid Reena’s clothes and shoes. She was sentenced to one year in custody.

While the series explores the tragedy true to the real incidents, it involves author Rebecca Godfrey in a slightly different capacity as compared to the historical sequence of events. “Part of making her a character in the show was removing ourselves from her perspective as the answer to what had happened or who we should sympathize with in the story,” said creator Shephard about the author. “The more I got to know her the more I realized that she is a character because her own perspective shapes the book.” Rebecca Godfrey spent months with the teens on trial, winning their trust because she was from the same town and young enough for them to relate to.

Godfrey’s conversations with the girls led to her book featuring a teen drama narrative, pointing to the jealousies and insecurities of the teenagers taking a dark turn. Her focus contradicted the media sentiments at the time, which discussed racism, the influences of Los Angeles gang culture, and the lack of awareness about bullying. “It’s not a moralistic book; I’m not offering lessons or rules about teenage violence,” Godfrey said in an interview. “But I hope people understand more about who these real people were, including Reena Virk, the victim, and have more of an understanding of how and why they came to be involved in a very unusual crime.”

The Hulu series chronicles the true story of Reena Virk, drawing heavily from Rebecca Godfrey’s book as a resource while looking at other perspectives like the one found in Reena’s father’s work, ‘Reena: A Father’s Story.’ While continuing the discourse of racial empathy and troubled teenagers inherent in the story, Shephard focuses on not sensationalizing the tragedy and keeping the human element intact for everyone involved.

Read More: Where is Under the Bridge Filmed?