We all remember what it was to be young. Being a teenager, hormone addled and emotional, stuck in a place where we think we’re mature enough to have more freedom and yet still stuck under our parents’ thumbs: it’s not easy to deal with.
Now Nick was, by all accounts, a good kid, and he did what his parents wanted him to do, even if he didn’t want to. Every now and then though, his 15-year-old self would surge forward and fight back. But an explosive argument with his parents one February day, would turn out to be the one fight he’d regret for the rest of his life…
Nick had been out hanging with his friends all night. At 15, he didn’t usually stay out all night, but the screaming match he had with his father after dinner had necessitated his swift departure and the extended stay. As he made his way back home, Nick mused on the amount of trouble he was going to be in after that stunt, and debated if he should go back at all.
In general, Nick was a good kid and the definition of the All-American teen. He was an honor student, a boy scout, and his recently completed prayer garden at Epworth United Methodist Church had put him one step away from becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank in Scouting. He was cut from the same cloth as his family…
Dad and Scoutmaster
John, Nick’s father, was the type of neighbor anyone would be lucky to have. A partner in a Towson law firm, John often lent out his services to friends for free and helped in the church community. He was active in the scouts and served as scoutmaster for his sons’ Troop 328.
Nick’s mother Tamara was a stay-at-home mom who did part-time property management work. Those who knew her described how genuinely sweet and loving she was and how dedicated she was to raising her three sons. They were a normal, successful, hard-working American family, but an event was about to occur that would change everything…
The Browning family, which consisted of Tamara, John, Nick, and the two youngest boys, 14-year-old Gregory and 11-year-old Benjamin, enjoyed the outdoors and had a vacation home in Garrett County. There, they would ski, boat, and have a great time together. But as Nick got older and entered his teens, arguments with his parents became more and more frequent.
Nick knew that he had to face the music sometime so he had his friend’s parents drop him off at the house on Saturday morning. Begrudgingly, he made his way inside but a second later came running out to tell his friends that something terrible had happened. His father was dead on the couch and his mother and brothers were nowhere to be seen…
Call the Police
The police raced out to the Browning house on Powers Ave. Nick had called them saying that his father was unconscious on the couch with blood coming out of his nose and mouth. The 911 dispatcher had told them that John Browning had perished because of cardiac arrest, but when they arrived, they discovered a much bloodier scene than they anticipated.
Officers investigated John Browning’s body in the ground floor room, then went upstairs in search of the rest of the family. What they found was the gunshot corpses of Tamara and the other two boys. All family members had been shot in the upper body and there was no sign of a confrontation inside the home. Though there had indeed been a confrontation the night prior…
Nick was heartbroken and sat outside the house, relaying his story to police. Soon though, the officers began to notice certain inconsistencies in his statements. He would tell one officer one thing and something slightly different when next he explained what had happened. The police would have chalked this up to the trauma of knowing his whole family was dead, if not for what happened next.
A few hours after the bodies had been cleared away and the police began to wrap things up, Nick Browning walked into the police station and confessed to the brutal murders of his family. Ht was placed under arrest and charged as an adult on four counts of first-degree murder. But still they didn’t know, why had he done it?
Nicholas Browning told police what happened in detail. On February 1st, 2008, after having a minor argument with his father, Nick went upstairs and got his gun. Then, he systematically gunned down his parents, John and Tamara Browning, followed by his two younger brothers, Gregory and Benjamin, who were still asleep in their beds at the time.
The working theory, based on interviews with Nick’s friends and the killer himself, was that after his parents told him to do something he didn’t want to do, the hormonal 15-year-old simply snapped. Whenever he was punished or made to do chores, Browning would incessantly complain to his friends about the unfairness of the situation. Apparently, he’d just had enough…
Ditch the Gun
After he was done, Browning went down the block and disposed of the gun in a bush near his house. Then, just as he planned, he went to hang out with his friends for the night. His plan was to return home in the morning and make the attack look like something which had happened while he was out.
“These were very nice people…” explains neighbor James G. Trautwein. The Brownings’ deaths baffled friends, relatives and neighbors. They described the Brownings as a “picture perfect” family. They couldn’t believe that a quiet, polite, respectful boy like Nicky Browning could have killed his whole family…
“I had no inkling there were any problems,” continued Mr. Trautwein, a paralegal who rents a house from the Brownings a few doors down from their home. He knew Nick Browning very well and the teen even mowed his lawn during the summer. “He was better behaved than your typical teenager, unfailingly polite…I didn’t find him tightly wound or anything…”
Not What He Seemed
Of course, there were some who saw Nick Browning for what he really was. Many of his fellow students said that he’d spoken of killing his parents before…but only as a joke. Despite his politeness towards his elders, Browning was a bit of a class clown and a bully in school. He was known to bully not just other students, but his younger brothers as well…
15-year-old Tyler Hesselbein, who also attended Dulaney High School with Nicholas Browning and took Spanish class with him, recalled seeing him that Friday before they left for the day. together. “He was acting fine,” Hesselbein said. “It’s so hard to believe.”
Meanwhile, John Browning’s brother, Lee Browning, who lived in Ohio, was reached after the fact. When asked about his nephew, he said Nicholas was “a good kid. There were no issues with him whatsoever…I can’t even think about it right now…” Unbelievable as the crime undoubtedly was, though, Nick still had to be punished…
Nicholas Browning stood before the judge in his best suit. He had been in jail since his confession, denied bail, and in the company of hardened criminals and angered small-town cops. When the judge slammed down the gavel and sentenced him to four life terms for the murders of his family, he accepted the verdict with as much dignity as he could muster.
Browning, who was 16-year-old when he went to prison, had made the biggest mistake of his life. His crime, terrible as it was, is even more upsetting than it seems at first glance. He had thrown away not only his entire life, but that of his two brothers as well. That is the saddest fact of all.