Monday, February 4, 2008

COCKEYSVILLE, Md. (AP) — Baltimore County police yesterday charged a 15-year-old boy with fatally shooting his parents and his two younger brothers as they slept at their home in a suburb north of Baltimore.

Nicholas W. Browning of Cockeysville was charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder in the slayings Friday of his father, John W. Browning, 45; his mother, Tamara, 44; and his brothers Gregory, 13, and Benjamin, 11.

Police spokesman Bill Toohey said the teen was formally charged yesterday at 1:05 a.m. after he admitted to the killings.

The teen had not been getting along with his father, according to a police press release. On Friday night, he went into the house after other family members were asleep and shot each of them using one of his father’s guns, which was in the house, police said.

After the slayings, he threw the handgun into bushes near his house, police said. The gun has been recovered, Mr. Toohey said.

Mr. Toohey said the teen then spent Friday night and all day Saturday with friends. When the friends took him home at Saturday at 5 p.m., he went inside, then came back out to say that his father was dead. He called 911, and officers responded to “a call of a cardiac arrest,” according to charging documents.

“A caller reported to 911 that a 45-year-old male was lying on the couch with blood coming out of his nose. He was not breathing,” the documents stated.

Police officers found the teen’s father dead in a ground-floor room and his mother and brothers in upstairs bedrooms. There was no sign of a confrontation in the house, Mr. Toohey said.

About 50 people — mostly teenagers — gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of the Brownings’ house last night.

A girl who identified herself only as Millicent and a classmate of Gregory’s at Cockeysville Middle School told the crowd that “sixth-graders shouldn’t have to go through this.”

The crowd stood in silence for about 10 minutes, although there was much weeping.

Gary Wilmer said he did not know the family well but went to the candlelight vigil to show support for the grieving young people.

“Kids need adults to step in and comfort them,” he said.

John Thibeault said he and his son, Kyle, who went to school with Benjamin, were both “traumatized” by the deaths. He said his family locked their doors Saturday night, fearing a killer was on the loose.

Mr. Thibeault described Nicholas Browning as “just a regular, normal kid.”

The teen — a gangly sophomore at Dulaney High School in the neighboring suburb of Timonium — was denied bail at a hearing yesterday and was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center, in Towson, in a special section for juveniles.

It could not be determined whether the teen had an attorney.

His bail will be reviewed today in District Court in Towson.

Even if convicted as an adult of first-degree murder, the teen is too young under state law to face the death penalty.

Two of the teen’s classmates drove past the family’s house yesterday afternoon. They started to weep when told by reporters that he was charged in the slayings.

“It’s hard to believe someone could do this,” said Brooke Kebaugh, 16.

Liz Lazlawbach, 17, said the teen complained about fighting with his father but “not about anything violent.”

Mr. Browning had been a lawyer for 19 years with Royston, Mueller, McLean & Reid. He was a partner in the firm, which is the county’s oldest law firm and is in the county seat of Towson, about six miles from the family’s home.

“John was a wonderful man,” the firm’s partners said in a statement. “He and his wife, Tammy, were very much in love. Together they were caring and loving parents to their children. John was also a man of much faith. And he so much enjoyed the outdoors.”

The partners said Mr. Browning was an accomplished lawyer who “counseled many businesses on a wide array of issues.” According to his biography on the firm’s Web site, he focused on real estate law and commercial and corporate law.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va., and earned his law degree at the University of Baltimore, according to the Web site.

“He was also a person invested in his family and community,” the partners said. “He led his local Scout troop. He was a leader at his church. In short, John Browning was a great man. We will all miss him very, very much.”

The Brownings’ troop, Troop 328, meets at Timonium United Methodist Church. The pastor there yesterday morning said the troop’s leaders did not want to talk. However, the Rev. Frances Dailey said Mr. Browning was “beloved and well-revered. I’m told this is not the kind of family that this could happen to.”

The grounds of the family’s large two-story farmhouse-style home were neat, and a basketball backboard was outside. Someone had hung a small, silver-colored crucifix from the Brownings’ mailbox.

Neighbors called one another throughout the night to talk about the tragedy, said resident Mike Thomas. He said one of his sons had been in Boy Scouts with one of the Brownings’ sons.

“These people would do anything in the world for you — just incredible people,” Mr. Thomas said. For instance, Mr. Thomas said, the Brownings would pick up debris along the street.

Mr. Thomas said his son was devastated when he learned of the deaths.

Mr. Thomas said he recently sold Mr. Browning a trailer that the scoutmaster planned to use for Boy Scout outings. It was parked yesterday in the Brownings’ driveway.

Counselors were to be available today to meet with students at Dulaney High, said Charles Herndon, a county school spokesman. He declined to say where the teen’s younger brothers went to school.

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