A 15-year-old Dulaney High School honor student and Boy Scout was charged yesterday with shooting and killing his parents and two younger brothers, a crime that police said he confessed to more than 24 hours after the killings - time he allegedly spent hanging out with friends.
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.
"He had some sort of disagreement with his father, and this is how he resolved it," Toohey said at a news conference at police headquarters in Towson.
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.
"Our goal is to maintain a sense of normalcy or something as close to that as we can," McCusker said. "Counselors will be available to anyone who needs them."
McCusker said that to his knowledge, Nicholas had not shown any outward signs of distress. "This seems to be a complete shock to everybody," he said.
Tyler Hesselbein, 15, attended Dulaney High School with Nicholas Browning and said they had a Spanish class together. He recalled seeing him on Friday.
"He was acting fine," Hesselbein said. "It's so hard to believe."
Another classmate, Skyler Helffrich, said he was "just a normal kid."
On Saturday night, with police still on the scene, Maurice Bailey, 61, stood at the top of the Brownings' street in disbelief over what had happened a few doors away.
Bailey said his family has lived and owned land in the community for 135 years. He said he had sold the acre lot to Browning to build his home and that "he helped me with the legal work."
"That was a good man," he said. "What the hell happened?"
Police were called about 4:50 p.m. Saturday to the 10900 block of Powers Ave. for a report of cardiac arrest. Nicholas Browning called 911 and said his father was lying on the couch with blood coming out of his nose and was not breathing.
Officers entered the home and discovered John Browning in a ground-floor room, then found the other bodies upstairs. All had been shot in the upper body, Toohey said. There was no sign of a confrontation inside the home.
Word spread through the community as police cruisers flooded the street, and about a dozen neighbors stood across from the home, many embracing and in tears.
Toohey said Nicholas Browning, who was initially misidentified as a 17-year-old, was interviewed at a police precinct and confessed to the crime. He was placed under arrest shortly after 1 a.m. and taken to the Baltimore County Detention Center, where he was charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder and denied bail by a District Court commissioner.
The teenager is scheduled to appear before a judge this morning for a formal bail review hearing.
Sun reporters Tom Pelton, Lynn Anderson and Frank D. Roylance contributed to this article. Due to incorrect information given to The Sun, Gregory Browning's age was misstated when this article was published in the print edition. The Sun regrets the error.