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Britney Ujlaky considered Bryce Dickey her "big brother." Now he's charged with killing the 16-year-old cowgirl who trusted him, say police

By KC Baker
April 16, 2020 08:59 AM
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Gabrielle (Britney) Lynn Ujlaky
Credit: Facebook

Growing up in the rural Nevada desert, Gabrielle “Britney” Ujlaky came to love everything about horses from a young age.

Learning how to drive cattle on horseback at age 9, the spunky 16-year-old cowgirl from the tiny town of Spring Creek spent as much time as she could practicing rodeo stunts like standing atop the saddle of her beloved horse, Ireland, while it was trotting.

“I would be losing my head going, ‘Stop!’ but she’d look over and say, ‘In a minute,’” her dad, Jim Ujlaky, tells PEOPLE.

Britney Ujlaky
Britney Ujlaky
| Credit: Courtesy Ujlaky Family

Sharing her love of horses was her friend Bryce Dickey, a shy 18-year-old she met on the local rodeo circuit 5 years earlier — a boy she considered her “big brother,” her mother, Alisha Tolhurst, and one of her best friends, Cheyenne Fry, 18, tell PEOPLE.

Britney vanished on March 8. Bryce said he’d dropped her off at the local high school to meet a “friend” — a man he claimed was wearing a cowboy hat and driving a green pickup truck. Bryce quickly stepped in to help in the search.

On March 13, her bloodied, partially clothed body was found in the hills of Burner Basin, about 15 miles northwest of Spring Creek. Britney had been raped, strangled and had her throat slashed so deeply that it cut her carotid artery in half.

On March 19, Bryce was arrested in connection with Britney’s death after allegedly giving police conflicting stories about what happened when he picked her up in his truck on March 8, a probable cause affidavit says.

Bryce Dickey
Bryce Dickey
| Credit: Elko County Sheriff's Office

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Investigators allegedly found a used condom at the crime scene with DNA from both Britney and Bryce – and a pair of blood-splattered boots in his closet, the affidavit says.

On March 22, he was charged with open murder and attempted sexual assault with the use of a deadly weapon.

Bryce has not yet entered a plea and remains held in the Elko County Jail without bail. When reached by PEOPLE, his attorney had no comment.

For more on the murder of teen cowgirl Britney Ujlaky, subscribe now or pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.

Authorities haven’t released any information about an alleged motive. But Britney’s friends say he may have gotten angry because she didn’t have romantic feelings for him.

“Bryce told her a few months earlier he had feelings for her,” says Cheyenne. “But she saw him as a friend. She made sure he knew that.”

Britney Ujlaky
Britney Ujlaky
| Credit: Justice for Britney Ujlaky/Facebook

Britney distanced herself from him for a while before she started to talk to him again, says Cheyenne.

Now she’ll never get to realize her dreams.

A “goofy” teen who was as ambitious as she was funny, Britney had big plans for the future, wanting to join the Navy “to travel,” and then – because she loved doing her friends’ makeup – become a special effects makeup artist, says Britney’s childhood friend Saquarra Ashby, 17. “She wanted to do everything,” she says.

Recalling how hard Britney was preparing to run for Rodeo Queen in an upcoming local pageant, Cheyenne says, “She would have made an amazing Rodeo Queen. But she never got the chance.”