‘Death of a Cheerleader’: Real True Story of Bernadette Protti, Kirsten Costas Movie Back on Lifetime


Death of a Cheerleader, the old one, is back on Lifetime Movie Network. Bernadette Protti killed cheerleader Kirsten Costas in 1984 and served time in prison for her stabbing death. Where is Bernadette Protti now? Today, she’s a free woman. Born on September 20, 1968, in Contra Costa County to Raymond and Elaine Protti, Bernadette Protti is the youngest of seven children. The rest—five sisters and one brother—are all several years ahead of her and were born in San Francisco County. One sister is two years apart. The oldest sister is ten to eleven years her senior.

The following timeline was compiled by Traciy Curry-Reyes over a ten-year period. The research comes from public records, court records, news archives, stories told to her, and her personal notes. Some of the information originally appeared on her old Bernadette Protti Found site, and it was the first story she researched for the Movies Based on True Stories Database/Archives in the late 1990s.

Death of a Cheerleader: The Real and True Story of Bernadette Protti and Kirsten Costas

Thursday, June 21, 1984: Kirsten Costas is away at cheerleading camp. Her mother, Berit Costas, answers the phone at 10 p.m. She speaks to a female teenager, who claims to be a member of the Bob-O-Links. The young lady invites Kirsten to dinner. Berit takes the message and relays it to her daughter.

Saturday, June 23, 1984: Kirsten Costas goes for a swim. By nightfall, her parents are out at a baseball potluck dinner with Kirsten’s brother, Peter Costas.

  • At 8:20 p.m., Berit Costas calls Kirsten to tell her to turn on the front porch light and to check on her. Meanwhile, Bernadette Protti borrows her sister’s car and makes the drive to Kirsten’s home address at 62 Orchard Road, according to People.
  • Kirsten Costas is dressed and walks out of the front door. As she enters the shabby-looking Pinto, disappointment sets in once she sees it’s Bernadette Protti. From there, the Miramonte High School teens drive to a church, where they can smoke marijuana. It’s Kirsten Costas’ idea, according to Bernadette.
  • At some point, Bernadette Protti uncomfortably admits there is no party.
  • A livid Kirsten Costas insults Bernadette Protti and exits the vehicle. She walks down a small hill leading to the home of Alex and Mary Jane Arnold, where she asks to use the phone to call her parents because her friend got “weird.”

Some have speculated Bernadette Protti came on too strong, giving Kirsten Costas “weird” vibes or even lesbian vibes. Many disagree.

  • When there is no answer, Kirsten Costas asks Alex Arnold for a ride to her house. His wife, Mary Jane, sees a chunky, round-faced teen with light brown hair lurking, near the bushes.
  • Kirsten Costas’ seems concerned but not terribly frightened, according to Mr. Arnold.
  • As the man pulls out of the driveway to take Kirsten Costas home, Mary Jane sees a yellowish or mustard-colored Pinto following her husband’s car.
  • During the ride, Alex Arnold sees the same car behind them. He asks Kirsten Costas if everything is okay.
  • No one is home at Kirsten Costas’ house. Alex Arnold waits nervously, eyeing Kirsten as she walks up the path.
  • Bernadette Protti retrieves the kitchen knife from the car console, exits the vehicle, appears dramatically on the lawn and plunges the knife into Kirsten Costas five times while Alex Arnold watches in horror.
  • The autopsy states the wounds are so deep, the knife had to have been embedded “with great force.”
  • At the same time, California lawyer Arthur Hillman sees the wounded cheerleader running and falling toward his front door. She tells him she’s been stabbed.
  •  He applies pressure to the wound as Kirsten Costas struggles to stay alive. But the Orinda teen collapses in his arms. Meanwhile, Alex Arnold has left the scene and tries to catch the chunky blonde girl. When he loses her, he returns to the crime scene to help.
  • Art and Berit Costas return to Orchard Road. Police and an ambulance are there. Kirsten Costas is pronounced deceased at the local hospital at 11:02 p.m.
  • Bernadette Protti speeds back to her home at 16 La Espiral. She takes a walk with her mother, washes the knife and places it into the knife holder. Then she retreats to her room, where she becomes physically ill.
  • Before going to bed, she flushes the (Marij—) down the toilet.
  • At Miramonte High School the next day, word of Kirsten Costas’ death spreads like wildfire.
  • Bernadette Protti acts concerned. She attends Kirsten Costas’ funeral but keeps her secret for months. Protti attends summer school and then returns to Miramonte High in the fall.




[from the files of Traciy Curry-Reyes]

By December of 1984: Bernadette Protti is severely depressed and wants to commit suicide. She attends Catholic church more. The FBI profile of the killer indicates the “crime is disorganized, impulsive—a spur of the moment,” killing. Contra Costa County detectives tell Bernadette Protti she fits the FBI’s profile of the killer. She admits to the detectives that it sounds like her.

  • The guilt is crushing. Finally, Bernadette Protti pens a letter to her mother, admitting that she killed Kirsten Costas. Later, Her father, Raymond Protti, along with Bernadette’s mother, Elaine Protti, drive her to the station, where she confesses to police.
  • Bernadette Protti tells police she is horrified by what happened and that she only wanted to hurt Kirsten Costas, not kill her. The reason was—she feared Kirsten Costas would tell everyone she was weird, and “that way.”
  • In her confession to detectives, Bernadette Protti also said she was upset she lost for cheerleader and wasn’t allowed into the club she wanted. She also told them her family didn’t fit in, and she was very hurt after Kirsten Costas called her skis “crummy” in front of the other club members. According to Bernadette’s taped confession to police, her family couldn’t afford the nice skis.
  • The shy teenager also revealed she was hurt that she couldn’t change her looks, become richer, or be popular.
  • The guilt weighs heavily on Bernadette. Mostly, she feels terrible about the public exposure and humiliation, she reveals.




[Image via Investigation Discovery/Permission use granted]

Contra Costa Juvenile Murder Trial Courthouse in Martinez

1985:  March 11–The first of Bernadette Protti’s three-day trial begins. She is sixteen-years-old.

  • Interested spectators, news media, and Miramonte High School parents pack into the courtroom to hear the sordid details. As the crowd swells, people are asked to exit the courtroom.
  • The judge’s annoyance grows. He believes the murder trial resembles a “spectacle” as if it is only for entertainment.
  • The prosecutor admits social pressure along with jealousy motivated Bernadette Protti to kill her classmate and that the killing was intentional.



[Image courtesy San Francisco Examiner/Bernadette Protti in court with her sister.]


  • The defense attorney agrees jealousy played a role but tells the jury it’s not a premeditated killing. The theory is Bernadette Protti acted on impulse due to a high-pressure moment and that after she murdered Kirsten Costas, she reached out to several people to tell the truth but never did.
  • Bernadette Protti sits with her mother and her sister. Her mother holds her hand throughout the court proceedings. They cry at various points during the trial as they stroke and hug Bernadette Protti.
  • Contra Costa jurors hear Bernadette Protti’s confession tapes, and her handwritten letter is read in the courtroom. Those in attendance say you can hear a pin drop.




[A distraught-looking Berit Costas/Courtesy of San Francisco Examiner]

  • At Bernadette’s sentencing, Kirsten Costas’ mother begs the court for justice by prosecuting Bernadette to the fullest extent of the law. During Berit Costas’ statement, Bernadette listens with her head down.
  • March 13—Bernadette Protti is found guilty of 2nd-degree murder in the death of her classmate Kirsten Costas. The original charge was first-degree murder.
  • Bernadette Protti is given up to nine years in prison. After she receives her sentence, she is placed in handcuffs. She cries and steals one last glance at her family as she leaves the courtroom.
  • Orinda residents are outraged the teen killer received such a light sentence.
  • Bernadette Protti is placed in the Youth Authority’s Ventura School.
  • While in prison, Bernadette Protti gets a high school diploma, makes straight A’s, and obtains an Associate of Arts degree through a college mailing program.
  • She writes letters to close friends and supporters. Mostly, she does well. Though, she has a few altercations. One is with a teenage boy with whom she falls in love. She exhibits the same rage that led to the death of Kirsten Costas. This altercation will come back to haunt her when she is considered for parole.



Berit Costas is second from the left with the dark hair. [via old Death of a Cheerleader blog/property of Traciy Curry-Reyes]

  • After the trial, Bernadette Protti’s parents leave Orinda and Contra Costa County, and Kirsten Costas’ parents and brother relocate to Hawaii.  (The outcome of this suit is unpublished.)
  • June 17—Kirsten Costas’ parents, Arthur and Berit Costas file a suit against Bernadette Protti, and her parents, Raymond and Elaine Protti, in Martinez. The Costas family said Protti’s parents should have known of her dangerous tendencies. They also accuse the Prottis of negligence in the care and supervision of their child, according to court records. Kirsten Costas’ parents ask for damages on the basis of “sustained great emotional disturbance, upset, shock, and injury to the nervous system” of a “permanent nature.” They also seek payback for monies spent on burial and funeral costs.
  • June 26—Bernadette Protti receives a tentative parole date that could allow freedom at the age of 22.
  • July 18—Randall Sullivan’s article, “Death of a Cheerleader,” is published in Rolling Stone.

Bernadette Protti Parole

1990: August 2—Bernadette Protti is denied early parole. She is 21-years-old and is considered a model inmate. The Youthful Offender Parole Board states she’ll be reviewed in six months.

  • December 14—-Bernadette Protti is denied parole. Art and Berit send a videotape from Hawaii, demanding she stays in prison.

1991: June 13—Bernadette Protti is denied parole.

1992: June 25—Parole board member Victor Wisehart votes to keep Bernadette Protti in jail. He reasons that she continues to present a danger to the public and needs treatment because she acts on impulse and lacks the ability to control her anger. He bases his decision on a violent altercation she had with her boyfriend at the school/prison, where she demonstrated the same rage that led to the death of Kirsten Costas.

  • The parole member also said Bernadette Protti has a hidden trigger that is switched on when she feels she’s not getting what she wants in her relationship.
  • Jamie Bailey and Sergio Gomez grant Bernadette Protti parole because she poses “no threat to society.”
  • In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle from Honolulu, Arthur Costas says he holds resentment for a judicial system that allows the killer to go free after a few short years. He also finds it disheartening that Protti was allowed to have a boyfriend during her stint.

1993: September 21—Bernadette Protti finishes parole and is permanently released from the California Youth Authority’s jurisdiction.

1994: Kirsten Costas case falls off the radar. Bernadette Protti lives in anonymity.

  • April—Bernadette Protti files and pays more than $60 to have her first and last name changed.
  • May 4-–The courts officially give Bernadette Protti a new name. She sometimes uses an alias, a varied spelling of her new last name.
  • May 16, 1994—She marries her husband under her new name in Monroe, Florida, according to Florida’s marriage records. They live and settle in a small home in the Midwest.
  • September—The movie, A Friend to Die For/also named Death of a Cheerleader premieres. Most viewers, except for those who live in Orinda, don’t make the connection between the movie and the real people.

1996: Bernadette Protti studies nursing at the University of Oklahoma and is honored.

  • Bernadette Protti studies medical science and obtains a master’s degree and becomes a nurse practitioner. (Like a doctor—some have told me she eventually became a doctor.)

1998-2000: Traciy Curry-Reyes finds the names of the real people who inspired the movie (A Friend to Die For) Death of a Cheerleader.

  • She places Bernadette Protti’s true story on the Movies Based on True Stories Database Geocities website with real pictures of Kirsten Costas and all other players in the case.
  • An even bigger following around this case begins as readers search for more updates about Bernadette Protti and Kirsten Costas’ family.

2001: Bernadette and her husband move to a larger and pricier home in another state. They move around between three states.

2006: Bernadette Protti, still living under her new name, is appointed as director of a breast cancer organization. She conducts breast cancer research and writes medical articles about her findings in scientific medical journals. She serves until 2007.

2008: The blog Bernadette Protti Found, an offshoot of the now-defunct Movies Based on True Stories Database and the Movies Based on True Stories Archives by Traciy Curry-Reyes, gives the first update in the case, revealing information about Bernadette Protti’s new identity and name change. Her new name is not revealed.

  • Traciy informs her readers that a recent photo of Bernadette Protti appeared at a breast cancer site, where she was on the board of directors. Traciy Curry-Reyes told her readers that she downloaded a copy of the photo but decided not to publish the photo online.
  • Traciy reaches out to the Protti family for an interview. There is no response and the matter is dropped.


  • Months later, Bernadette Protti’s photo mysteriously vanishes from the breast cancer website.
  • Some people demand to know where Bernadette Protti’s is and accuse Traciy of protecting her.
  • They also want to see the photo in her possession.

2012: Years pass. Then Bernadette Protti and the murder of Kirsten Costas airs on Investigation Discovery’s true crime show, Deadly Women. The episode is called “Deadly Delinquents.”

2013: A television producer reaches out to Traciy Curry-Reyes for an interview about the Kirsten Costas-Bernadette Protti case for Lifetime’s Killer Kids. In Florida, Traciy shows the producer the recent photo of Bernadette Protti from the hotel computer lobby. The woman is shocked to see that it really is Bernadette. Bernadette Protti’s family and the Costas family refuse to participate in the show.

  • March—the episode about the murder of Kirsten Costas airs on Lifetime’s true crime documentary Killer Kids.
  • April—Traciy Curry-Reyes follows the trail of Bernadette Protti and reveals to her readers that she found a baby registry online for Bernadette Protti and her husband.
  • Fans still contact Traciy Curry-Reyes for confirmation of her new name. (see more here)
  • At least two readers email Traciy with Bernadette Protti’s new name and ask her to confirm that it’s her. Traciy confirms it.
  • Bernadette Protti has an unknown enemy who sets out to destroy her.
  • DecemberBernadette Protti’s new name is leaked online.
  • The same photo that Traciy Curry-Reyes saved in her email files, and the same photo that was deleted from the breast cancer website miraculously appears online.

Bernadette Protti Today

2015: Trouble brews for Bernadette Protti. She is involved in litigation due to her involvement with the breast cancer place years earlier. She is accused of negligence and violating her duties properly as director. The founder and president is accused of benefitting from the charitable organization during Protti’s tenure. Protti, operating under her new identity, claims she had no knowledge of the founder’s shady dealings.

  • June–Bernadette Protti’s new identity still floods the internet as a slew of what appears to be fake social pages are set up in her new name.

2016: The claims against her are dismissed. She returns to her normal life. Could the leaked photo and new name information be connected to the scandal at the breast cancer organization? Or is it a relative?

2018: The state website says Bernadette Protti nursing license expired in 2016. Today, Bernadette Protti lives with her husband in a beautiful $600,000—4 bedroom, 3 bath home.

2019: February 2— The Lifetime movie remake of Death of a Cheerleader airs. The characters have different names.

You can watch Death of a Cheerleader from 1994 Tuesday, March 2, at 8:00 a.m. on LMN.



[Main image via the files of Traciy Curry-Reyes]

Traciy Curry-Reyes

Traciy Curry-Reyes is the founder and editor-in-chief of TV Crime Sky. She began her career as a true crime & entertainment freelance writer in the 1990's for her website, The Movies Based on True Stories Database/Archives. She has contributed content to other websites, such as Examiner.com and Inquisitr.com. Traciy also appears as a true-crime expert and commentator on TV One's Fatal Attraction, For My Man, and Justice by Any Means; Investigation Discovery's Murder Calls and Scorned; Oxygen's Snapped; FOX's Crime Watch Daily; and Lifetime Television's Killer Kids.