Brianna could walk into a room and stop the conversation midsentence. "She was like this light that just drew people around her," remembers friend Jesse James Olinger. "She had the total South Florida mentality — loving the sunshine, having a good time, having a smile on her face all the time." She liked sushi and expensive purses, and she couldn't resist singing along to the Britney Spears song "Womanizer" any time it came on.
By the time she was a seventh-grader at Eagles Landing Middle School in Boca Raton, she was already the center of the microcosmic social scene. "As soon as the boys discovered they liked girls, they liked Brianna," recalls Jena Azzata, a childhood friend.
While she always seemed to be smiling with her friends in the hallways at school, Brianna was rebellious. Because she was a juvenile, records of her crimes and the results are not public, but her rap sheet includes an arrest at 15 years old for battery with a weapon in Parkland. In 2004, when she was 17, she was arrested in Hillsborough County for burglary and grand theft of a motor vehicle. Later that summer, she was picked up in Orange County for another burglary.
Brianna left Olympic Heights Community High School early in favor of a GED and the chance to move to Miami and go out more. "She was all about living in the moment," says Azzata. "It was part of what made her so fun to be around. But it also got her into trouble a lot."
Soon after she met Rich, he was taking her to some of the most exclusive restaurants in South Florida. One afternoon not long after they started dating, Rich took Brianna to a late lunch at the superswanky Bova Prime; then the couple strolled down Las Olas hand in hand. Brianna was admiring the expensive designer dresses in the boutique windows when Rich coolly pulled out a few hundred dollars cash.
He told people he had made good investments and retired young. His acquaintances refer to him as a "trust-fund kid." His father owns a high-end real estate firm in Fort Lauderdale. His older sister, Peggy, committed suicide — an overdose of prescription pills — when Rich was 27. In the late '90s, he worked as a DJ at raves in Broward County and Miami. For a few years, Rich owned a strip-mall karate dojo. He also owns a boat, and of course, the apartment at the White Egret, valued by the tax collector at about $200,000.
"He would take her shopping all the time, and Rich would get her anything she wanted," remembers Erica Fine, who dated a friend of Rich's and became close with Brianna. "She wanted a Gucci purse and a Sky dress? He'd buy them. He was very, very good to her that way."
Dating Rich meant she got to go out all the time. She got to drink. And she got to travel and shop like the women of her favorite show, Sex and the City. Her friends remember the expensive gifts Rich showered upon Brianna: On top of the dresses and purses, he bought her a necklace with a diamond-covered peace symbol. He got her Manolo Blahnik shoes. He paid for her hair and nail appointments. At one point, he gave her a black 2006 PT Cruiser. She moved in with him.
"She believed she deserved the best of everything, the most expensive things in life," remembers an ex-roommate of Brianna's. "She was high-maintenance and proud of it."
Rich got her into the VIP sections of the most popular new nightspots in South Florida: They went to Nikki Marina in Hollywood, to Liv in Miami Beach, to Feelgoods in West Palm Beach, to Pangaea at the Hard Rock. These are the places carrying the mantle for glamorous South Florida nightlife, where the wealthy can rip through their $14 drinks and dance beneath flashing neon strobes. In the spinning lights, plush VIP couches, and intoxicating chemical indulgences, Brianna could forget about her troubles — at least until morning.