The fatal shooting last weekend of a Baltimore County couple and two of their sons, allegedly at the hands of their eldest son, is not the first gun tragedy to have visited their extended family.

More than three decades ago, the sister of the father killed last week in Cockeysville was shot dead in an apparent accident in their Howard County home.

Victoria Lynn Browning, then a 15-year-old Howard High School sophomore, died after being shot with a .22-caliber rifle held by her teenage brother, Lee Browning, according to a news report from the time.

As those who know the family continued this week to absorb the news that 45-year-old John W. Browning, his wife and two of their children were killed with Browning's gun, some recalled the 1973 incident.

"It's been one tragedy after another" for the family, said Joan Becker, the Republican Party chairwoman in Howard County.

The mother of John, Lee and Victoria Browning remains well-known in Howard County, where at age 78 she continues to serve as a member of the county's Republican Central Committee.

According to family friends, Margaret "Peg" Browning was taken to the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson yesterday to visit her grandson, 15-year-old Nicholas Browning, who is charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder.

The Dulaney High School sophomore confessed to shooting his father, his mother, Tamara Browning, and two younger brothers, Gregory and Benjamin Browning, according to police. The teenager had had disagreements with his father, police have said.

Attempts to reach Lee Browning were unsuccessful. A woman who answered the phone at his mother's home said the family did not want to comment on the death of Victoria Browning or make any additional comments about Nicholas Browning's arrest.

Victoria Browning was struck in the head by a .22-caliber bullet Feb. 14, 1973, as she emerged from her bedroom in front of her 16-year-old brother's room, where he was holding the rifle, The Times of Ellicott City reported, citing a police report.

Lee Browning did not know the rifle was loaded, according to the article. Some who recalled the incident this week said he was cleaning the weapon at the time.

Efforts this week to obtain the police report were unsuccessful.

Family members "all stuck together" after the incident, recalled Howard County Court Clerk Margaret Rappaport, who taught several of the Browning children, including John and another sister, Sally, in first grade at Elkridge Elementary School. "[Peg] is an excellent mother."

Police have said the gun used in the fatal shootings Friday night or early Saturday in Cockeysville was owned by John Browning, who has been described as an avid outdoorsman.

Baltimore County police would not discuss how the gun was secured. Spokesman Bill Toohey said yesterday that there were hunting rifles kept in the home in addition to the handgun.

While the legal aspects of the case continue, family and friends are trying to cope with their grief. A memorial service for the family is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Trinity Assembly of God, 2122 W. Joppa Road, Lutherville.

And last night at County Home Park in Cockeysville, more than 500 people gathered in a muddy field for a candlelight vigil that was equal parts remembrance for the four victims and support for the accused son.

Families grouped together, parents standing protectively close to their children. Teens gathered in clusters, some friends of Nicholas Browning.

"There are so many questions everyone has. Who knows? I feel like I'm grieving like everyone else," said Connor Gray, 15. Like Nicholas Browning, Gray is a sophomore at Dulaney High.