Deceit alleged in slaying of family

Police say teen faked discovery of kin's bodies

Jennifer Welsh (second from left), her daughter Sara (right), and a young neighbor mourned at the Cockeysville, Md., home where John and Tamara Browning and two of their sons were found dead. A third son, Nicholas, is accused of the slayings. Jennifer Welsh (second from left), her daughter Sara (right), and a young neighbor mourned at the Cockeysville, Md., home where John and Tamara Browning and two of their sons were found dead. A third son, Nicholas, is accused of the slayings. (Steve Ruark/Associated Press)
Email|Print| Text size + By Kasey Jones
Associated Press / February 5, 2008

COCKEYSVILLE, Md. - Police say a 15-year-old Boy Scout charged with killing his parents and two younger brothers shot them as they slept, then returned a day later after spending time with friends to stage the discovery of their deaths.

Friends of the Browning family held a candlelight vigil Sunday evening at the half-million dollar farmhouse-style home where authorities say the killings happened. Someone hung a small, silver-colored crucifix on the mailbox.

The father, John Browning, was "beloved and well-revered. I'm told this is not the kind of family that this could happen to," said the Rev. Frances Dailey, pastor of Timonium United Methodist Church, where the Brownings' Troop 328 met in the suburban Baltimore community.

Officials believe the teen, Nicholas Browning, shot his father, mother, and brothers with one of his father's guns on Friday, then tossed the handgun in some bushes and left.

A judge denied bail for the teen yesterday, though his attorneys cited a good academic background and lack of a prior criminal record in seeking to have bail set at $1 million.

Authorities said friends dropped Nicholas off on Saturday and soon after, he came out of the house to say he had found his father's body on the ground floor. He then called 911.

"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," charging documents said.

Shortly before 5 p.m., officers found Nicholas's father dead in a ground-floor room and his mother and brothers' bodies in upstairs bedrooms. They also found the gun.

The victims were John, 45; Tamara, 44; Gregory, 13, and Benjamin, 11.

Police said Nicholas confessed early Sunday and was charged as an adult with four counts of first-degree murder.

Nicholas had not been getting along with his father, police said in a news release, but investigators offered no other details. There was no sign of a confrontation at the house, police said.

John Browning, a real estate lawyer, had worked in Baltimore County's oldest law firm for nearly 20 years. He was a scoutmaster and a church leader.

Nicholas, who was working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, had built a prayer garden at his church to meet one of the requirements. His high school was one of the best in the county.

John Browning led camping, rock climbing, and whitewater expeditions for his Boy Scout troop. The family also hosted meetings for scouts' parents at their home.

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

Two of Nicholas Browning's schoolmates drove past the house Sunday afternoon. They wept when they were told that the teen was charged in the killings.

"It's hard to believe someone could do this," said Brooke Kebaugh, 16.

Liz Lazlawbach, 17, said Browning complained about fighting with his father, but "not about anything violent."

The teenager was formally arrested at 1:05 a.m. Sunday after admitting to the killings, Baltimore County Police spokesman Bill Toohey said. Browning was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson in a special section for juveniles.

The county had 37 homicides last year, compared with 282 in nearby Baltimore. Toohey said there had not been a similar attack in the area since 1995, when a man killed his wife and three children before killing himself.

Resident Mike Thomas said one of his sons had been in scouts with one of the Brownings' sons. The Brownings would go out of their way to help others, even stopping to pick up debris in the street, he said.

"These people would do anything in the world for you - just incredible people," he said.

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