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‘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.

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



[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.



[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.



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




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


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

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.


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.

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.

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 and 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.



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