RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. – 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 as 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 began arriving in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union, initially fleeing 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 and later hanged himself in jail.
Florin Ciuriuc, the executive director of the Slavic Community Center of Sacramento, said unlike Soltys, who failed to get the right medication, Grigoriy 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 teen.
"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.
On Thursday, Denis Bukhantsov, said he didn't blame the legal system, saying he allowed his brother into his home. "I don't think system can save us," he said. "He was part of our family too. He was my brother — he is my brother."
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.
Church secretary Valentina Bondaruk said Alina Bukhantsov, of Belarus, was baptized at the church and taught Sunday school there.
"Usually they have big family and relatives, a lot of people related to each other," Ponomar said.
Neighbor Alex Oropesa, 28, 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.
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 the family have five children.
Like in 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.
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 but 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.
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." According to the clerk's office of the Sacramento County Superior Court, a judge granted two temporary restraining orders but it expired when the family did not seek to have them made permanent.
"He was making threats to everybody," Ciuriuc said. "But nobody paid attention to those."