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.

"It's so surreal," Caitlin Schultz, 20, a junior at Towson University, who coached Nick on the swim team at Springlake Swim Club. "I feel so sad for Nick. You want to hug him."

Peter Snyder brought his two sons, one of whom had played lacrosse with Ben, 11.

"I think there's been a lot of surprise and shock," the father said. "They don't know how to act in a situation like this. Neither of my boys has ever been to a funeral. They asked, 'What's a vigil?'"

"Even in the midst of our pain and sorrow is an opportunity to remember and celebrate together a family whose lives have made an incredible difference," the Rev. William Brown of Epworth United Methodist Church said to the crowd. "I challenge you to hold one another up at this time."

Ravens kicker Matt Stover, who lives in the area, also spoke to the crowd. "I'm going to challenge everybody here tonight to forgive Nick," he said. "I don't know why Nick did that. It just puts chills up my spine."

In Howard County, friends of the Browning family recalled how they recovered from the 1973 shooting incident largely because of the strength of the family matriarch, Peg Browning, who remains well known in political circles as a lively person with strong views about personal freedoms.

Years ago, she lost the use of her voice above a whisper after a bout with cancer; she uses an oxygen tank and is in declining health. Becker, the GOP official, said John Browning was his mother's mainstay, helping with her paperwork, and visiting and frequently checking on her.

Despite her disabilities, the grandmother seemed indomitable when it came to her two public passions - politics and her personal crusade against smoking.

"As far as I'm concerned, she is Mrs. Republican," said Rappaport, a fellow party member and friend.

Former party Chairman Louis M. Pope recalled Peg shaking her head at him in disapproval when he smoked a cigar at a golf tournament.

Yet, when then-Howard County Executive James N. Robey, a Democrat, proposed banning smoking in all county bars and restaurants as a health measure, Browning opposed it on grounds of personal freedom.

Rappaport said that when Browning spoke to area students, they took notice when she walked in holding her oxygen tank.

She would say, Rappaport recalled, "This is why I'm here today," holding up a pack of cigarettes.