Was the mum-of-two guilty of attempted murder, or a victim herself?
Brian Wiggins, 40, and his wife Angie were asleep in Port Hueneme, California, that fateful night when they heard it…
A small voice crying for help.
But it wasn’t just a dream. Someone was in trouble.
Brian, a former lifeguard, ran downstairs, leapt across two concrete docks and dived into the cold water of the Channel Islands Harbor, Ventura County.
Despite the darkness, he rescued a fully clothed woman – Narinder Virk, 39.
Then he saw two more in the water – Narinder’s children: a girl, Harpreet, 6, and a boy, Sonny, 9.
‘My heart just dropped, because I looked back and saw the other two and, you know, I have kids the same age,’ Brian said.
Harpreet was floating face down, so he dragged her to safety and performed CPR.
Then he went back in to rescue her older brother.
The three were raced to hospital, and the children were later placed in protective custody while Narinder was arrested on two counts of attempted murder.
But why would a mother try to kill her own flesh and blood? And where was the children’s dad?
According to police reports, Narinder and her husband Santokh, both originally from India, had a history of domestic disturbances.
Narinder had once called police to say Santokh, a shop owner, had abandoned the family for India, leaving them without food or money. Another time she’d called an ambulance after she said he’d been violent towards her.
From jail, Narinder broke down in tears as she told a local journalist about the eight years she’d spent in the country with a husband who frequently went to India without her – leaving her scared, with no car and only limited English.
At the end of January 2000, at Ventura County Superior Court, Narinder pleaded not guilty.
Defence lawyer Christina Briles described Narinder as a distraught, abused woman who had momentarily lost her mind.
‘I don’t think she should be prosecuted,’ she said. ‘I think she should be helped.’
Briles said her client was illiterate, and had been abused and neglected by her husband, trapped in an arranged marriage and restricted by language barriers.
That she’d finally snapped after years of abuse.
Gradually, more information about the family began to emerge…
The couple had lived together in India from 1978 to 1984, before Santokh moved to America to work.
He’d brought Narinder over in 1991, and she’d fallen pregnant with their son, Sonny.
The abuse started soon after.
Narinder had followed restrictive, traditional Indian gender roles.
So, upon finding out that her husband was filing for divorce, she knew she’d be shunned by her family and left with no income.
Then, Narinder’s young children took to the witness stand in a preliminary hearing.
They told a judge how their mother had led them to the harbour in darkness on that dreadful night and pushed them into the water.
‘My mom was drowning us,’ said Sonny. ‘She was pushing us down.’
Despite the shocking evidence, Narinder’s supporters fundraised to try to raise the $500,000 bail (around £380,000).
Narinder was due to face trial when, in September 2000, she changed her plea to not guilty by reason of insanity.
‘It seemed pretty clear that she suffered a breakdown after a great deal of tension because of the abuse,’ her lawyer said.
Just days later, a tearful and grateful Narinder was released from jail after her bail money was paid by supporters.
It wasn’t until June 2002 that Narinder stood trial at Ventura County Superior Court, facing two counts of attempted murder, and an allegation that she caused serious injury to her young daughter Harpreet.
The court heard she woke the children in the night, told them to get dressed and took them to the harbour.
‘She just threw us in,’ said her now 8-year-old girl.
Narinder sat crying as her children spoke. Then she listened as her lawyer painted a picture of her as a battered wife who ‘snapped’.
During opening statements, the jury were told evidence would show Narinder deliberately tried to drown her children to punish her husband after he walked out on them.
That she’d left an audio tape for Santokh, telling him when he got back he would only have the dogs to feed – showing she planned to kill their kids.
While the Deputy Public Defender didn’t deny Narinder pushed the children into the water, she argued Narinder was so distraught at the time she couldn’t have formed the intent to kill.
And that medical experts would testify she was severely mentally ill on the night, as a result of abuse and cultural isolation.
Then, Narinder’s now ex-husband, Santokh, gave evidence.
He insisted he never beat, kicked, cheated on or threatened to kill his ex-wife, but didn’t deny seeking a divorce.
So was Narinder a battered wife who snapped after years of abuse? Or an angry wife who plotted revenge against her husband when he planned to leave?
In July 2002, Narinder Virk, 42, was convicted on both counts of attempted murder, as well as inflicting great bodily harm on her daughter.
However, the jury subsequently ruled Narinder was insane when she carried out her actions, that she was suffering from severe depression, and couldn’t tell right from wrong.
A judge committed her to a state mental hospital.
In March 2007, a judge ruled Narinder could be released from hospital to the county’s Conditional Release Pro