RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. (AP) — The violent deaths of an immigrant mother and her two young children have Northern California's Slavic community recalling a similar killing spree a decade ago. But this time, community leaders say the warnings were apparent.
Grigoriy Bukhantsov, 19, remained in custody Thursday. He faces formal murder charges Friday in killing his 23-year-old sister-in-law, Alina, 3-year-old niece, Emannuela, and 2-year-old nephew, Avenir.
Alina's husband, Denis Bukhantsov, discovered a horrific scene at their duplex in Rancho Cordova, a suburb of Sacramento. Authorities have yet to identify the murder weapon except to describe it was consistent with "sharp force trauma."
Another child, 6-month-old Mark, was found unharmed in another part of the home. It's not clear why he was unharmed.
The case has shocked the large immigrant community that fled the former Soviet Union because of religious persecution. The Sacramento region has one of the largest Russian-speaking populations in North America that numbers more than 100,000 people, said David Ponomar, who owns the Sacramento-based Afisha Media Group. The organization includes a Russian-language newspaper, magazine, radio programs and TV programs.
The immigrants came primarily from the Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus and other former Soviet republics, and settled in Sacramento's suburbs. Sacramento's metropolitan area has more than 2 million people.
The gruesome case has parallels to that of Nikolay Soltys, a 27-year-old Ukrainian immigrant who was charged with killing his pregnant wife, his 3-year-old son and four other relatives in Rancho Cordova in 2001. He was captured after a nationwide manhunt and later hanged himself in jail while awaiting trial.
Florin Ciuriuc, the executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, said unlike Soltys, who failed to get the right medication, Bukhantsov had a wide network of family, friends and church leaders who were trying to help him recover from rampant drug use and abusive behavior.
Ciuriuc said despite warnings from family members who sought a restraining order against their son, law enforcement failed to properly evaluate the troubled youth.
"When he was in custody, I think the law enforcement and court system had a clear shot that they could have sent him to get a mental evaluation and keep him away from the family," Ciuriuc said.
Drawn by Christian radio programs and newspapers, many of these immigrants are devout members of Baptist and Pentecostalism churches.
The Bukhantsov are members of the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, a 6,000-member evangelical Pentecostal denomination on the outskirts of Sacramento that the church website says "immigrants from the former Soviet Union" founded.
Church secretary Valentina Bondaruk said Alina Bukhantsov was baptized at the church and grew up attending Sunday school there. Bondaruk said the woman taught Sunday school at one point and regularly helped out during church functions.
"Usually they have big family and relatives, a lot of people related to each other," Ponomar said.
The first wave of immigrants came around 1988, Ponomar said.
Neighbor Alex Oropesa, 28, said the young family kept to themselves but the children would often play with other youth on the block.
Oropesa said she moved with her three children to Rancho Cordova because she thought it would be safe. "It's really a shocker to see this because we have all the Russians and Ukranians on this side of the street. And that's what makes it quiet," Oropesa said. "That's what makes it calm and peaceful."
Ciuriuc said he has known the Bukhantsov family for years and saw them regularly at church. He said the father, Aleksey, was a beekeeper and his wife suffered from diabetes. They have five children, including Grigoriy and Denis, the husband of Alina.
Like any immigrant family, the language barrier prevented his parents from knowing how their son was doing or knowing if Grigoriy was skipping school. Ciuriuc expressed frustration that his parents and counselors and church leaders couldn't get through to him in recent years.
The strained relationship with his family continued to deteriorate. Records show Bukhantsov was on probation after spending about seven months in jail for felony burglary from breaking into someone's home and stealing an iPod.
Ciuriuc said he went to the family's home with the church pastor about six months ago and the community leaders had no luck getting through to the teenager. The parents decided to move out of California for fear of their own safety.
"He was going nuts. Saliva was coming out of his mouth when he was screaming, yelling, cussing. He was talking nonsense," Ciuriuc said. "You could have seen that his head was not there."
Ciuriuc said he helped the father apply for a restraining order and believes the judge dismissed the request because he "felt it wasn't serious enough." No matter what their financial burdens were, his parents sent him twice for drug rehabilitation.
"This is a family that's a true example in our community. But still, they had a child that needed help and this help was not provided," Ciuriuc said.
"He was making threats to everybody. But nobody paid attention to those."