Fairfax County Sheriff Stan G. Barry's wife was found shot to death in their Centreville home early yesterday, and police were investigating the case as a suicide.

Megan Owen Barry, 30, was an associate at the Falls Church and Richmond offices of the Reed Smith law firm and had been working as a lobbyist at the state Capitol on Thursday night. She returned home later Thursday, and Stan Barry called police about 12:30 a.m. yesterday and reported a self-inflicted gunshot wound. The sheriff apparently had stepped outside briefly and returned to find his wife lying fatally wounded inside, authorities said.

Police sources said the evidence at the scene was consistent with suicide. An autopsy was performed yesterday, but no determination on a cause of death was released.

Barry declined to comment.

Megan and Stan Barry were married in November in a civil ceremony officiated by Fairfax Circuit Court Judge Jane Marum Roush. It was her first marriage. Stan Barry has two daughters from a previous marriage.

Megan Barry received a bachelor's degree from the College of William and Mary and a law degree from the University of Virginia. Last year, she worked as a special assistant to the secretary of health and human resources. More recently, she worked as a lobbyist for advocates for a new seat belt law.

Word of her death filtered through the state Capitol just as the House of Delegates and Senate were going into session.

Sen. James K. "Jay" O'Brien Jr. (R-Fairfax) reported the news on the Senate floor in an emotional speech that he had trouble delivering. He said Megan Barry's death was a "sad passing of a great friend of the Senate" and reminded his colleagues that she had once been a Senate page.

James P. Gallatin Jr., Reed Smith's managing partner in Virginia, said members of the firm were "deeply saddened by news of the death of our valued colleague and friend."

He said Barry was "an exceptional attorney whose contributions to the firm's clients, and her colleagues, will be sorely missed."

Stan Barry (D), 45, was elected sheriff in 1999 after 19 years as a deputy. He has said he plans to run for reelection this year but has not filed a formal declaration.

Staff writer Steven Ginsberg contributed to this report.