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.
A judge denied bail for Nicholas Browning on Monday, though his attorney cited his strong academic background and lack of a prior criminal record in seeking to have it set at $1 million instead.
"I don't even think he's even been suspended from school," attorney Steve Silverman said. "Quite frankly, it's really quite shocking."
Officials believe the teen had shot his father, mother, and brothers with one of his father's guns Friday, then tossed the handgun in some bushes and left.
Friends dropped Nicholas off on Saturday, authorities said, 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' 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 was being held at the Baltimore County Detention Center in Towson in a special section for juveniles.
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 Friday at the house, police said.
Silverman said he had been retained by the teen, who contacted his office on Sunday. He asked people not to jump to conclusions about his client, noting Browning had repeatedly denied killing his family during hours of police interrogation before the alleged confession.
Silverman noted that Nicholas was an honor student at Dulaney High School, one of the best in the county. He played varsity golf and lacrosse and was a skier.
Nicholas, who was tall and gangly, was working toward becoming an Eagle Scout, and had built a prayer garden at his church to meet one of the requirements.
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.
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," Browning's law partners said in a statement. "John was also a man of much faith. And he so much enjoyed the outdoors."
The killings left co-workers, acquaintances and neighbors in the quiet Baltimore suburban neighborhood stunned. Someone hung a small, silver-colored crucifix on the mailbox at the Brownings' half-million dollar farmhouse-style home.
Jennifer Welsh, who lived across the street from the family and whose son played lacrosse with Nicholas, described Nicholas as "a very polite, well mannered, average teenage boy."
She said her son was upset and confused by the killings. "He's wondering ... how? why? He's trying to digest the whole thing."
Of Nicholas, Welsh said, "nobody knows what goes on in his head and I guess we never will."
The county had 37 homicides last year, compared with 282 in nearby Baltimore. Toohey said there had not been a similar incident in the area since 1995, when a man killed his wife and three children before killing himself.