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Dulaney dad tries to make sense of deaths

At the house on Powers Avenue in Cockeysville where the killings took place, two police cars blocked the driveway yesterday and a makeshift memorial of balloons, flowers and teddy bears stood at the entrance to the wide front porch.

Sometime Friday night or early Saturday, police say, a boy grabbed a gun inside the house and shot and killed his father and mother and then his two younger brothers while they slept in their beds.

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But now the house was dark and quiet, like any other suburban home on a weekday, and the police were inside trying to figure out what went wrong and how four people lost their lives in a few terrifying moments.

The boy who stands accused of the killings is Nicholas Browning, an honor student at Dulaney High School, a Boy Scout, a kid other kids seemed to like and so did adults.

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I have a 16-year-old who goes to Dulaney, and he knew Nick Browning, although not well. But I can tell you this: The killings shook my kid, and they shook me and lots of other Dulaney families, and we're still trying to make sense of it all.

As a parent, you wrestle with so many ways to explain life to your kids. But how do you explain the inexplicable? How do you describe a tragedy like this that happened just miles from your own front door?

The high school seemed like a different place yesterday in the gray morning light.

I drove my kid to school because his car was having transmission problems. He didn't want to talk about the killings. I didn't know what to say anyway, so we rode in silence, the radio on for background noise.

Friday night, when the boys junior varsity and varsity basketball teams played Hereford, the gym was packed. The noise was incredible, and both teams came away with great wins.

Cheerleaders cheered, teachers beamed, coaches shouted instructions and sweated through their suits. It seemed as if nothing could go wrong. It was one of those high school moments you live for as a kid.

Now that seemed like ages ago, replaced by the terrible news of what had happened in the big house on Powers Avenue.

A 15-year-old boy has an argument with his father, police say, grabs his father's gun, kills everyone in the house and then goes and hangs out with his friends - how do you process any of that?

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Then you talk to people who knew the boy, Dulaney kids, and they say he was just a normal kid, funny at times, liked by many, not one of these angry, alienated kids who seems like he could go off any minute.

Then his lawyer tells The Sun that Nick Browning has no history of mental illness or substance abuse that might cause someone to snap, which was what the howling mobs on talk radio have been speculating.

At Dulaney yesterday, they were dealing with the emotional fallout of the killings as well as they could.

Students moved through the halls between classes chattering about the Giants' big win over the Patriots and class projects and what they were doing after school.

Outwardly, it looked and felt like a normal school day. But it wasn't. The school had brought in a traumatic-loss team of guidance counselors, school nurses and social workers to help students cope in the aftermath of the news about Nick Browning's arrest for the killings.

"We've met with kids, parents and some teachers," said Dr. Preston Bodison, a psychiatrist with Baltimore County schools. "People are upset and need someone to talk to."

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The same thing was happening a few miles down the road at Cockeysville Middle School, where the two younger Browning boys were students and where the shock and grief were more palpable.

Greg Browning, 14, was an eighth-grader there.

"He was a fine, gifted young man," said Principal Phil Taylor. "Greg was our mascot for the boys basketball team and wore a cougar costume."

Benjamin Browning, 11, a sixth-grader, was quieter and new to the school. But students were talking about both brothers, and there were 10 traumatic-loss team counselors on hand to help them deal with what they've heard about the killings.

"Kids are talking about it, coming down [to the offices] in small groups," Taylor said. "[But] there's a lot of normal learning occurring today. Some of the kids who are upset are happy to get back to class and the routine ... sort of like, 'Can we do something today and not just talk about this?' "

But people would be talking about the killings for a long time and not just around here.

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The story has been picked up nationally, as all these sensational killings are in this age of media saturation and 24-hour news cycles.

All the elements are there for cable-news titillation: multiple murders in an affluent community; a "picture-perfect" family slain; the eldest son, a top student and Boy Scout, stands accused; neighbors, friends and family in shock.

I saw the courtroom sketches of poor Nick Browning in an orange prison jumpsuit during the video of his bail hearing, and it was one of the saddest things I'd ever seen.

When my kid came home from school yesterday, before he dashed off to basketball practice, I wanted to hug him. But he wanted no part of that. He was dealing with things as well as he could, and I understood I was going to have to give him time to sort them out. None of that can be rushed.

In late afternoon, I went back to the house on Powers Avenue.

The two county police cruisers blocking the driveway were gone. In the driveway now was an unmarked car, motor running, with a uniformed cop at the wheel. Also new was an SUV towing a small equipment trailer parked by the garage, possibly indicating that a family member had arrived from out of town.

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Other than that, everything looked the same.

The balloons on the porch blew softly in the wind, and the ribbons on the teddy bears rustled and the flowers swayed.

And if you just gazed at the rest of the house, and not this little makeshift memorial, you would never know that something horrific had taken place here.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com



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