Killing Out of Jealousy: Dr. Villarreal on Lifetime’s “Killer Kids”, Bernadette Protti’s Story

Dr. Christina Villarreal was recently featured as a mental health expert on an episode of Lifetime’s Killer Kids discussing the murder mystery case of Bernadette Protti, a teen convicted of killing 15-year old classmate and cheerleader Kirsten Costas in Orinda, California, a wealthy suburb of The Bay Area during the 1980’s.  This crime documentary episode chronicles the events leading up the stabbing murder of Kirsten Costas, and the investigators who identified the killer after the case went cold.  The murder case filled news headlines in June of 1984 when Kirsten Costas was stabbed to death on the doorstep of a neighbor.  The case remained a mystery for many months until her classmate, 16-year old Bernadette Protti finally confessed to the crime.

Friends, family and classmates in Orinda were shocked when Bernadette Protti confessed to the murder, as rumors had circulated that another classmate known for publicly disliking Kristen was responsible for Kristen’s death.  At trial, the defense stated Bernadette Protti had been teased by Kirsten Costas, and that Bernadette snapped after Costas threatened to tell everyone that she was “weird,” and “that way,” a phrase used in the ’80’s to refer to someone as homosexual.  Defense attorneys alleged that Bernadette Protti’s actions were not sexually motivated, and that Kirsten Costas had misinterpreted her intentions to befriend her. A rumor of that nature would have ruined Bernadette Protti’s chances of ever being socially accepted in Orinda, a community that was known for placing a strong emphasis on success, popularity and ‘fitting in’.

Bernadette Protti was found guilty of second-degree murder and sentenced to serve time in the California Youth Authority, where she remained until she was released on parole in June 1992. According to Traciy Curry-Reyes, of the Movies Based On True Stories Archives, Protti changed her name after her release, causing many to relentlessly pursue her new identity for years.  Traciy Curry-Reyes discovered Bernadette Protti’s new identity in 2008, but chose not to publicly disclose her new name.  She shared with her viewers that Bernadette Protti is now married with a child.

The Bernadette Protti-Kirsten Costas story inspired the true-story movie A Friend To Die For” (“Death Of A Cheerleader” starring Kellie Martin, Tori Spelling, and James Avery which aired in 1994.  

The video segments below are of Dr. Villarreal’s commentary on the case, who provides a framework for understanding what pushes some people to kill.  The full story can be seen here in the second half of Killer Kid’s episode #12 of Season 4, titled “Rumors and The To Do List“.

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2 thoughts on “Killing Out of Jealousy: Dr. Villarreal on Lifetime’s “Killer Kids”, Bernadette Protti’s Story

  1. Dear Dr Villarreal
    I watched the movie viewed on TV today and if it’s true to how it really happened, I blame the Principal for instilling in the students at assembly that they need to be “exceptional” as I understood it, which to any vulnerable teenager would be something that they aim to achieve to be socially and academically accepted. As I said if the movie is true to what happened, then Kristen appeared to be popular, snobbish and “look at me” attitude and a “bully”. She took great delight in intimidating other students who appeared to be different (physically and emotionally), not that this gives anyone the right to take a life, but you can see how her ongoing intimidation and bullying tactics would’ve caused this very unfortunate tragedy to happen. In this day and age, bullying is very much an ongoing thing that doesn’t seem to be addressed properly, I blame the government and the Principals for not working through issues and putting better practices in place to avoid this kind of behaviour, but I also blame the parents, in particular the mother, for not addressing this with their daughter. To me Kristen’s parents appeared to be “in the upper class, ie, snobbish” and it showed through their daughter, in her behaviour to her peers. It also appeared that there were some students at the school who “hung” around with her and it also appeared that some didn’t like her “mean” altitude towards others, but were too afraid to speak their mind, out of fear that Kristen would turn on them if they disagreed with her. I am a mother and have seen “bullying” destroy precious lives, especially with girls. There are some decent girls who are compassionate, but there are also some very “bitchy” girls who take great delight in destroying lives.

  2. Claudette

    I don’t doubt that the Costas girl was probably a snob. I went to Skyline High, & saw a bit of that. I didn’t fit in w/ upper middle class & never bothered me. How is it ok for Protti to not have served at least 20 yrs.? I believe in second chances however that punishment hardly seems justified in my opinion.

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