Nicholas W. Browning was arrested about 1 a.m. yesterday and charged with four counts of first-degree murder, according to Baltimore County police spokesman Bill Toohey. The teenager, a sophomore who was close to achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, used a gun owned by his father, John W. Browning, 45, in the shootings Friday night, according to Toohey.
Nicholas Browning then used the gun to kill his mother, Tamara Browning, 44, and his younger brothers Gregory, 14, and Benjamin, 11, who were asleep in their beds, Toohey said.
The teenager threw the gun into some bushes near the family's Cockeysville home and then spent Friday night and all day Saturday with friends, police said.
When dropped off at his house Saturday, Nicholas Browning went inside and came back out, telling his friends that his father was dead. But after detectives noted inconsistencies in his statements, the teen confessed to the crimes, Toohey said.
The killings baffled friends, relatives and neighbors, who described the Brownings as a "picture perfect" family.
Neighbors in this quiet, out-of-the-way neighborhood on a hillside east of York Road said they were sickened by the thought that the respectful boy might have killed his whole family inside their stately colonial home with its wrap-around porch.
As friends dropped off flowers and balloons outside the darkened home yesterday, neighbors shook their heads in disbelief.
"I had no inkling there were any problems," said neighbor James G. Trautwein, 37, a paralegal who rents a house from the Brownings a few doors down from their home. Nicholas Browning mowed Trautwein's lawn and seemed like a good kid, he said.
"He was better behaved than your typical teenager, unfailingly polite," said Trautwein. "I didn't find him tightly wound or anything. These were very nice people."
Nicholas Browning, who will turn 16 on Saturday, was described as a class clown who took upper-level classes and had recently completed a prayer garden at Epworth United Methodist Church - a service project that put him one step away from becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting.
Reached in Ohio, John Browning's brother, Lee Browning, said Nicholas was "a good kid. There were no issues with him whatsoever.
"I can't even think about it right now," Lee Browning said, declining to speculate as to what might have led to the shootings.
John Browning, a partner in a Towson law firm who often lent his services to friends, was active at his church and with his sons' Scouting endeavors, serving as scoutmaster for his sons' Troop 328 in Timonium. Tamara Browning was a stay-at-home mom who did part-time property management work, while Gregory and Benjamin were students at Cockeysville Middle School.
Tamara Browning "was a genuinely sweet and loving person," said Edward J. Gilliss, a partner with Royston, Mueller, McLean & Reid, the law firm where John Browning had worked for about 20 years. Gilliss said Tamara Browning "dedicated her life to raising her sons."
The family enjoyed the outdoors, often visiting a vacation home in Garrett County near Deep Creek Lake for skiing and boating, according to friends and family.
"You cannot get any more normal than they were," said Lee Browning, 51.
Dulaney High Principal Patrick S. McCusker said members of the county school system's Traumatic Loss Team would be on campus today to counsel students in group or individual sessions. McCusker said the school's counseling staff would also be working with students who might need support.