MOUNT VERNON — Brittany Zika put others before herself people and animals alike.
Thats how her family remembers her in the wake of her Saturday morning death: a selfless woman who loved her family, animals and the outdoors.
Zika, a 28-year-old who lived in Rockport, was shot at close range while camping in the Boulder Creek area outside Marblemount.
Her boyfriend, 31-year-old Clayton Riggles, was charged with first-degree manslaughter Wednesday for her death.
Riggles called 911 about 1:50 a.m., saying he accidentally shot his girlfriend.
He reported the couple was camping and going to bed in their tent when the incident occurred. He was putting the .45 revolver he was carrying under a pillow where he normally keeps the gun while sleeping, he said when the gun went off and shot Zika in the forehead. The gun was loaded with six cartridges and was directly over Zikas head when it fired, detective reports say.
Search and Rescue, including a doctor, hiked to the location of the campsite and found Zika dead in a tent.
They located adequate supplies for wilderness camping and the scene appeared consistent with Riggles report, the affidavit says.
Camping was a natural activity for Zika, who loved hiking, hunting and sports. She also was a fastpitch player.
Her mother, Christina Miller-Zika, recalls visiting her daughter in Rockport to hike and running with her in races.
"We considered each other best friends," Miller-Zika said.
Zika, born in Billings, Mont., grew up in the Marysville area and graduated from Marysville Pilchuck High School in 2002.
She went on to earn certification as a veterinary assistant at Bellingham Technical College in 2005.
Animals were a passion of hers, having grown up with cats and dogs.
"She just had a love and general feel for them," Miller-Zika said.
Zika was working as a veterinary assistant at the Skagit Animal Clinic in Burlington at the time of her death.
Before that, she worked at Smokey Point Pets in Arlington until the shop closed in 2009.
Her boss and friend, Deidre Smith, described Zika as a hard worker.
On one occasion, when the pet shop intended to have puppies shipped to the store from Montana, Zika instead drove east to transport the puppies herself so they wouldnt have to endure a cold plane ride, Smith said.
Smith described Zikas death as a shock, saying Zika was never involved in any trouble.
Miller-Zika said her daughter dated Riggles for more than a year.
She said Riggles would never intentionally hurt Zika.
"I think hes a very good person," Miller-Zika said. "I think it was just a very, very terrible accident that happened."
Riggles has no felony history, according to court records.
More than anything, Miller-Zika remembers spending quality time with her daughter and their close relationship.
"Every moment that I spent with her was very special," she said.
Lynsi Burton can be reached at 360-416-2149 or lburton@skagitpublishing. com.