November 14, 1997
That night it came crashing down. A Russian satellite broke up and blazed a red trail through the atmosphere. People in the greater Victoria area in British Columbia reported a UFO.
In Saanich, a suburb of Victoria, the police cleared a group of kids from the field at Shoreline Junior Secondary School, after one hurled a rock through a window. The partiers dispersed with their spiked cola and concealed marijuana.
Nearby, a fourteen-year-old girl ran, ran from the Shoreline field. Her pursuers caught her at a phone booth, where she was calling home to say she’d return soon.
Her family would never hear from her again.
The girls in pursuit coaxed her out, told her she had misunderstood them. They locked arms on either side of her, and they directed her to the Craigflower Bridge.
Under the bridge, where several of the partiers had regrouped, the girls swarmed and pummeled their quarry. One extinguished a cigarette on her face. When she was down, a male who had never met her kicked her in the head three times. Several people witnessed the events, but did not intercede. A thirteen year old left the site in disgust and fear, but stopped on the street, a short distance from the bridge. Finally, one of the girls involved in the assault said that they should stop.
Reena Virk crawled and then stumbled away, battered and bleeding.
Some of the girls went through her pack. They smashed a bottle of perfume and tossed her diary into the water.
A short time later, two of the assailants followed her.
Night passed to morning, November 14 to 15, 1997.
The Bloody Jacket’s Tale
Saturday morning a mountain biker found a jacket and a pair of shoes near the Craigflower Bridge. He inspected them and noticed blood. He hung the jacket on a fence and continued on his way.
A jogger picked it up as she passed.
An older woman drove by. Convinced the jacket was the same stolen recently from her grandson, she stopped and demanded that the jogger return the garment. The jogger dropped it on the ground. The woman later noticed the blood. She supposed the thief had been in a fight, and so she washed it. She would later learn the jacket did not belong to her grandson, but was the property of another, cast adrift.
Lonely as I am, together we cry
She was a fourteen-year-old girl from a middle class home, a student at Colquitz Junior Secondary. Her great-grandfather had immigrated to Canada from India. Her ancestors were Hindu, but her own family had become Jehovah's Witnesses. She stood apart, not really attached to the larger Indian community in British Columbia, and no stranger to occasional racism from students from other backgrounds. She was a heavy girl whom bullies sometimes targetted.
In the year preceding the assault Reena lived at home, and with relatives and, for a time, at the Kiwanis Group Home. She objected to the strict rules of her religious family, but she'd also recently made allegations of sexual abuse. These were not consistent (the identity of the alleged abuser changed three times), but authorities of course investigated. It was because of these that she was first removed from her parents’ home. The case eventually was dropped.
Reporters and teachers would later remark that, though many people knew her, she had no really close friends. Desperate to find friends and lead an exciting life, she began imitating tough girls who embraced the gangsta stereotype. She tried to associate with kids who called themselves Crips, though many of these only connected with the culture of the inner city through rap videos. Others had more serious problems. She met girls with criminal records, and girls who had been kicked out of their homes. One seriously told anyone who would listen that she planned to become an assassin for John Gotti— Gotti who, at that point in time, was spending twenty-three hours a day in lockup.
Reena took up smoking and drinking. She bragged to her new acquaintances of having to meet her probation officer, even though she had never been arrested.
By autumn, she’d met two girls who lived at the Kiwanis Group Home. Their identities have been protected by the courts; this account will refer to them as Barbie and Midge.
Virk allegedly stole Barbie's phone book, possibly in retaliation for items Barbie stole from her at the Kiwanis Home and, later, from her parents' house. Reportedly, Reena made calls to a boy she liked, whose name she found in Barbie’s book.
Midge, meanwhile, heard that Reena had been dating a boy she liked. In the presence of witnesses, Midge and a male friend phoned Virk and threatened her. They did not give their names, but identified themselves with the local wannabe Crips.
Later, possibly because she believed that Barbie had been behind the threats, Reena began spreading rumours about the girl, often to people whose numbers she found in the book. These rumours were the sort of vicious nonsense spread by a certain type of angry girl seeking revenge: saying, for example, that Barbie had AIDS.
Barbie began talking about her hatred for Reena, and also told several people that Reena was jealous of her beauty. Barbie’s mother would later recall a phone conversation between her daughter and another girl in which they discussed punishing and possibly killing Virk. The mother did not take what she heard seriously, and did not inquire further.
The other girl's name has not been protected. She is Kelly Ellard.
Barbie and Midge invited Reena to a Friday night party on the Shoreline field. The week before, they’d told several of their tougher female acquaintances that Reena would be there, and asked them to help beat the girl. Kelly Ellard was among these girls.
Reena attended, but was obviously suspicious. When a strange girl arrived and announced to the group that she'd been asked to fight some girl, Virk bolted. Barbie and Midge and their posse ran after her. They caught her at the phone booth.
Barbie and Midge left shortly after the assault under the Craigflower Bridge. They signed in at Seven Oaks Group Home, where they were then living, at 11:03.
At 11:30, Kelly Ellard met a boy from her neighborhood on the road, a student from Spectrum Senior Secondary. He had no real connection with her crowd, though each knew the other. He'd been watching a video at a friend's house, and was on his way home. He later testified that her clothes were wet, and that she told him she had just drowned someone. At the time, he said, he did not believe she was serious.
How Not to Conceal a Crime
According to later court testimony, by Saturday afternoon, Ellard had bragged to Barbie and Midge and a handful of other friends that she had finished off Virk. Barbie and Midge later returned to the site. They took the shoes, in order to dispose of them.
Barbie also talked of the assault to a fellow resident. This girl and her sister asked Barbie for additional information, and they later visited the site. Concerned that a murder may have taken place, the sisters told the police, who already knew that Reena Virk had been reported missing.
Throughout the week assailants and witnesses alike talked about the assault, though they did not mention a murder. Warren Glowatski's girlfriend confronted him about the claim that he had kicked a girl in the head. She found the act repulsive-- but she washed his clothes, which had been bloodied. It very quickly became known at Shoreline School that a girl had been beaten up Friday night under the Craigflower Bridge.
Exactly one week after the event, the police rounded up those involved in and witness to the assault on Reena Virk.
The following day, divers discovered her body in the water.
Within a very short period of time, the police had an account of events to the point where Virk staggered away. Some people saw Ellard and Warren Glowatski, the boy who had kicked Virk, pursue her. These witnesses included the thirteen-year-old who had turned away when the attack began, who had remained on the road.
Kelly Ellard told the only seriously divergent tale. She claimed that Warren Glowatski and Barbie had gone after Virk, and that Barbie had, in fact, planned from the beginning to kill the girl. While the story is not impossible, the time that Barbie and Midge returned to the group home makes their involvement in the actual killing problematic.
Meanwhile, the case began to receive international media coverage. Certainly, the fact that the APEC summit was taking place in nearby Vancouver had some impact. Media from around the world were already nearby. Other factors also drew attention to the crime. Many regarded the age and sex of those involved with shock and bewilderment.
We're told girls don’t do this sort of thing.
The Shoreline Six
Six of eight suspects, girls between the ages of 14-16, were tried as young offenders for assault causing bodily harm. Three pleaded guilty; three others were found guilty after a three-day trial. Barbie and Midge, found most culpable in the initial assault, received sentences of one year each. Three others were jailed for six months. One girl, whose involvement was minor, would be incarcerated for two months.
The assailants wept openly in court.
This left Glowatski and Ellard, who were both charged with murder. Due to the brutality and severity of the crime, these teens were charged as adults.
Glowatski, nicknamed Warren G, was a Shoreline student, sixteen at the time of the assault. He lived in a trailer with his mother who frequently drank. He was a member of the local self-styled Crips, and a friend of some of the girls involved in the assault. His presence under the bridge appears to be connected with the party, however, and not to Reena Virk herself.
Possibly the oddest thing about Glowatski’s involvement is that he had never met Reena Virk before that night. He cannot, even now, say why he chose to kick her with such ferocity when she was already down.
Glowatski claims that Kelly Ellard asked him to follow Virk with her, to keep the girl from ratting out the group. For reasons that remain unclear, the pair later resumed the assault on the other side. Glowatski claims that Ellard ultimately held the beaten girl's head under water. This testimony supports the autopsy, which found that the girl had died from drowning-- though the pathologist who examined the body speculated that Virk might have died anyway, from the trauma to her head. The account also fits the testimony of other girls, who claimed, and have claimed from the beginning, that Ellard bragged about killing Reena Virk.
We have comparatively little on Kelly Ellard's personal life. Her family have been supportive of her and guarded in their contact with the media. Her lawyer insists she is not a danger to society. Popular opinion regards her as a psychopath or, more correctly, a person with antisocial personality disorder.
At school, she'd been in trouble for truancy and swearing at teachers. By the time she'd turned 15 (her age at the time of Virk's death), she'd been suspended for drinking and vandalism. Her early history shows a troubled girl, but little to suggest she would become a killer.
While out on bail on charges of murder, she assaulted a 58-year-old woman. When she was in custody, she threatened other inmates and stabbed one with a pencil. Traces of cocaine were found in her cell. One report described her as "intelligent but.... very comfortable with violence as a solution to problems" (quoted in Armstrong).
Ellard maintained her story, insisting that Barbie and Glowatski must have killed Reena Virk. The testimony to the contrary, she alleges, results from a conspiracy by the others under the bridge that night.
Trial and Error
Warren Glowatski's trial took place in spring of 1999. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.
Kelly Ellard would be tried three times. A jury found her guilty at the end of her first trial, but this was soon overturned due to a procedural problem. The second trial resulted in a jury hung by one juror. The third trial sent Ellard to jail, still unrepentant for her role in Virk’s death and still protesting her innocence.
Although Ellard and Glowatski were tried as adults and sentenced to life in prison, their age makes them eligible for parole after serving seven years.
Glowatski received day parole in 2007 and has stayed out of the media. Ellard won an appeal in 2008. On June 12, 2009 the Supreme Court of Canada upheld her conviction.
The murder of Reena Virk ignited many debates, on teen violence, on female violence, on culture and parental responsibility and appropriate sentencing.
Since the actual killers were white and Virk's ancestors came from India, many people read race into the crime. It must be noted that some of Virk's assailants were non-white, and race rarely rated mention by those implicated. If we cannot rule out racism entirely, it does not appear to have had a major influence. The story of the unpopular outsider, killed by bullies, has also become a favorite approach. It's not entirely false, but the reality seems more complex.
Many pieces have been written about the case. Joan McLeod had already started her play, The Shape of a Girl, when the crime took place. She incorporated the murder into it, however, and made it central. It’s about a teenage girl’s response to the killing of Virk, and the relevance she sees to her own life. Rebecca Godfrey spent six years writing Under the Bridge: the True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk which I recommend.
Many questions about Reena Virk's short, sad life may never be answered, nor will we likely be able to reconcile the conventional picture of adolescent girls with the violent manner of her passing.
Jane Armstrong. "Inside the Mind of Kelly Ellard." Globe and Mail Online. March 6, 2005. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20050603/BCELLARD02/TPNational/Canada:
Amy Carmichael. "Kelly Ellard gets life sentence for 1997 killing of Reena Virk." Canadian Press.
"Convicted killer testifies at Ellard trial." Canadian Press. March 17, 2005. http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1111025489970_98/?hub=Canada
"Ellard a violent, abusive inmate: documents." Canadian Press. June 3, 2005.
"Ellard conviction restored in Reena Virk murder case." The Canadian Press. June 12, 2009. http://www.cbc.ca/canada/story/2009/06/12/virk-ellard-court012.html?ref=rss
Rebecca Godfrey. Under the Bridge: The True Story of the Murder of Reena Virk. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2005.
Yasmin Jiwani. "Reena Virk: The Erasure of Race." The FREDA Centre
for Research on Violence against Women and Children. December 1997. http://www.harbour.sfu.ca/freda/articles/virk.htm
"The Murder of Reena Virk: A Timeline." CBC NewsOnline. April 13, 2005. http://www.cbc.ca/news/background/virk/
"Pathologist describes extent extent of injuries to Reena Virk." CBC News Online. June 30, 2004. http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2004/06/30/virk040630.html
Sid Tafler. "The Lonely Death of Reena Virk." Periodical Writers Association of Canada, Victoria Chapter. April 1998. http://www.islandnet.com/pwacvic/tafler04.html
"Third trial finds Kelly Ellard guilty of murder." CBC News Online. April 3, 2005. http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/04/12/Ellardverdict-050412.html