By twists and turns, "Under the Bridge" examines a terrible crime in which middle-class teenagers obsessed with film idols and hip-hop culture turn on one of their own with tragic results.
Who were the seemingly ordinary suburban teenagers who found themselves under the bridge on a moonlit Friday night? Why would a girl who longed to be their friend be beaten and killed? And how did so many teenagers keep the knowledge of a murder from parents, teachers, and police for eight days?
Below, read an excerpt from Rebecca Godfrey’s “Under the Bridge,” a stunning account that takes us into bedrooms and classrooms, into a fateful night, into the hearts of grieving families— and into police stations and courtrooms as adults reckon with a shocking and brutal crime.
By 11:00, the police station was, as one lawyer would later recall, “a total gong show.”
“It was chaotic,” Sergeant Poulton admits. The interview rooms and cells were full of teenagers. Mothers were vomiting in the bathroom. Lawyers began to arrive.
This is pandemonium, Sergeant Poulton thought. The station is teeming with kids.
Officers tried to keep the teenagers apart so they could not “contaminate their stories.” Pagers were going off, and girls were screaming.
In the waiting room, the mothers were like a chorus. The mothers, together, they wailed.
Belle sat with the mothers of her daughter’s friends, women whom she had known for years. She had been with them at bake sales and barbecues and nights at the kids’ dances when together, they were chaperones. Now, their daughters were detained for murder. In the uneasy moment, she found herself silent while the other mothers wailed and sobbed and hugged. She was not part of this chorus, for she could not cry, not yet. “Jill was devastated, and shocked,” she recalls. “And Rosemary was hysterical, totally hysterical. It was all very emotional and there was a lot of fear. We were all pretty afraid. ‘What’s going to happen?’ I remember being really worried about that girl who was missing because at that time there really wasn’t any proof that she was dead. We were all in one room. We didn’t know what was going on. Finally, John Bond came in and he told me that they couldn’t decide whether to move the girls to jail or to keep them in the cells at the station.
“I think I went into a robot state. I’d been there before with my brother. I think that’s where I went. I have to do that. Have to do that or I’ll fall apart.
“When I looked at Jill and Rosemary, oh, I just felt like we were in a dream. This cannot be happening.”
The lead detectives were assigned to different suspects, and as he’d later recall with a slight laugh, John Bond and Bruce Brown “took” Warren. “We just thought it was a job for him and me,” he recalls.
Sergeant Poulton, said by John Bond to be “a class act, a very intelligent guy,” entered the interview room where Kelly lay on a sofa. “Kelly, you’re here under arrest for murder,” Sergeant Poulton said to this very young girl with a stud in her nose and sleepy brown eyes.
“You haven’t yet been charged. We’re trying to get a hold of your mother. I’ve read you your rights. Now. . . .”
She interrupted him, and her concerns were not those of a murderer but those of a teenage girl. “Where are my friends? When can I see them?”
Before he could answer, she spoke up once more, her voice more indignant than terrified.
“When can I go? I don’t know anything about what’s going on.”
She slept for a while then, lay down on the couch, and slept in the children’s interrogation room, on a couch beside a box of building blocks and teddy bears.
Susan, Kelly’s mother, a slight woman with soft gray eyes and a soft voice and a soft sweater, arrived near midnight. Her husband, the soccer champion, waited outside, pacing, thinking, “How can this be happening?” His stepdaughter, who never missed her curfew, arrested for murder. How could this be?
“Mom,” Kelly cried when she saw her mother. “I was just with my friends and I got taken in. I didn’t do anything. I don’t know what is going on.”
Sue sat beside her daughter, slowly, as if dazed and unsure. (“Nothing like this has ever happened to anyone I know,” she would later say.) Protectively, she seemed almost to enfold her daughter; she stroked Kelly’s hair; she held her hand; she looked at her daughter with worry and tenderness.
“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of what happened to a girl named Reena Virk,” Sergeant Poulton explained to the shocked mother.
“Reena? I thought her name was Trina,” Kelly said, and she yawned.
“Where were you last Friday night?”
Yawn. She placed her hand over her mouth, yawned again. “I told you. I went to the Mac’s, and then I went to the Comfort Inn and then I went home.”
“Well,” he said, “we’ve heard quite a different story. We have a number of witnesses who have given us information that—”
“All those people are fools!” Kelly screamed. “They’re just trying to save their asses.” She turned away from the detective decisively and raised her head so she seemed taller than her mother, and certainly, she seemed the stronger and more assertive of the pair.
“Mom, I want to go home now,” she announced.
Her mother stayed silent, continuing to stroke her daughter’s hair.
“Why were you telling people you beat up Reena that Friday?” Sergeant Poulton inquired.
“I did not tell anyone that. Rumors fly around. This is high school. It’s gossip, gossip, gossip!”
“How can I make you understand?” Sergeant Poulton said, after hearing of gossip and rumors, frustrated by the vagueness of her answers and her petulant tone. “This is murder! Of a fourteen-year-old girl! A mother has lost her child! You’re looking at a murder rap here. Get a grip!”
“I have nothing against her,” Kelly insisted. “I don’t even know her. Listen to me! I’m very pissed off right now! So quit asking me stuff! Leave me alone!”
Poulton moved toward the door. He’d been working for fifteen hours straight, chasing down girls in flared pants and hooded sweatshirts. And now he was facing the logic of this fifteen-year-old alleged killer. It was gossip. It’s gossip, gossip, gossip.
“I’ll be right back,” he said sighing, and he left the room, left mother and daughter alone.
“Why is this happening to me?” Kelly wailed.
“It’s happening to everyone,” her mother replied. “They’re all crying now.”
“I hate this asshole,” Kelly said, “He’s intimidating me.”
There was a video camera on the wall taping her, and Kelly’s mother pointed this fact out to her daughter. Nonplussed, Kelly stared at the camera.
“I hate cops!” she screamed. “I hate the system!” She raised her middle finger to the camera. She scowled. She persevered with her outrage at her own misfortune: “I’m going to beat up everybody who said this about me,” Kelly roared. “I am going to kill them. I’m not going to school anymore.”
Susan Pakos put her head in her hands.
“Mom,” Kelly commanded. “I’m scared! Can’t you take me out of here?”
“I can’t just take you out of here, Kelly.”
“You own me! You’re my mother. Get me probation!”
“I knew something was going on on Wednesday,” Sue said, as though to herself, since Kelly was not listening. Full of fury, Kelly stood up and stormed over to the box of stuffed animals sometimes used to help children describe and remember sexual abuse. Kelly kicked a teddy bear across the room.
“Pick that up,” Kelly’s mom said wanly, and when Kelly ignored her, she herself got on her knees and picked the teddy bear up because her daughter had kicked it halfway across the floor.
Sergeant Poulton moved to interrogation room 3 and looked inside to see both Brown and Bond interviewing a boy. That’s Warren, he thought, surprised, for he had imagined the lone boy in the case would be a burly kid, a deadened thug, and there he was, spritelike, with his hair bleached and curly, and he was even smaller than Kelly. He thought Warren was smaller than Kelly, although later he would find they shared a strange physicality, as if they were twins. Both were 5’4, and both weighed exactly 115 pounds.
Dreading the return to the screaming and hostile girl, he lingered for a moment by the door, and he thought he’d find out what Bond and Brown had gotten out of the Warren kid. He peered through the window once more, and it surprised him again that the boy was so small.
“It was tense,” James Bulmer would later recall of the atmosphere, “and I was just trying to figure out what was going on. I knew they’d all been arrested for murder, but the details were unclear. I asked if there was a body, and I was told, ‘We haven’t found one yet.’”
James Bulmer was a duty counsel lawyer, who the court system provides to represent those who cannot afford or find a lawyer at the time of their arrest. He’d been in the cells so many times, but never seen anything like the scene at the station that evening. In the cells, he noticed the heating system was not functioning normally. “The cells were absolutely stifling hot,” James Bulmer would later recall. The cells were in the basement, so he felt as if he was walking into some accidental inferno.
He spoke to Maya and Willow and Eve. He filled out forms. He tried to find out what was going on. He told the girls they’d have to go before a justice of the peace and be formally charged. Since it was the weekend, the justice of the peace would come down to the station and they’d go before a proper judge on Monday.
He did his duty, but found himself bewildered by the sight of these murder suspects.
“It sure as hell didn’t compute to someone who has two daughters to arrive and find, basically, my daughters in custody. You expect to see adults when you walk into those cells. They were just kids. They all had different personalities. Some were emotional. Some were scared. For others, it didn’t seem to have sunk in yet. But they all looked to me like children.”
From Under the Bridge by Rebecca Godfrey. Copyright © 2005 by Rebecca Godfrey. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.