RANCHO CORDOVA, Calif. – Investigators say a 19-year-old man accused of killing his sister-in-law and her two small children in an attack that stunned authorities in northern California for its brutality had a strained relationship with his family.
"Something bad was brewing" between Grigoriy Bukhantsov and his relatives before the slayings Tuesday in Rancho Cordova, Sacramento County sheriff's Sgt. Jason Ramos said.
Authorities had not indicated exactly what they think prompted the attack.
Bukhantsov was picked up at a Denny's restaurant in the early hours Wednesday. He had fallen asleep in a booth in front of a plate of chicken-fried steak with gravy, where police said they found him after locating a minivan that had been stolen from the home in the Sacramento suburb.
He was booked into the Sacramento County Jail without bail. Ramos said he was the only suspect. The father, who discovered the scene, is not a suspect. He was distraught and has been cooperating with authorities, police said.
Bukhantsov had been hopping between the homes of various relatives and "just didn't have a good relationship with family members, and there have been suggestions that something bad was brewing for some time," Ramos said.
Ramos said Bukhantsov's drifting may have included possibly the tidy duplex in the Sacramento suburb where his brother's family lived. Records show Bukhantsov was on probation after spending about seven months in jail for felony burglary.
"But I don't think anybody, obviously, could have foreseen an act like this," he added.
Ramos said the victims suffered extensive trauma, likely after a "violent encounter."
He said the manner of the attack was a stabbing, slashing or slicing, but he declined to say what kind of weapon was used or go into further detail pending a coroner's report. The coroner's office identified the victims as 23-year-old Alina Bukhantsov, her 3-year-old daughter, Emmanuela, and her 2-year-old son, Avenir. The causes of death have not been released.
Another child, 6-month-old Mark, survived the attack and is with family, police said.
Ramos said the attack was "shocking, even to veteran law enforcement."
The crime has rocked a large community of Slavic immigrants who came to the area in the 1990s after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
The slain mother and her husband were members of the Bethany Slavic Missionary Church, a 6,000-member evangelical Pentecostal denomination on the outskirts of Sacramento that was founded by "immigrants from the former Soviet Union," according to the church's website.
Church secretary Valentina Bondaruk said Alina Bukhantsov had been 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.
All the children's names were chosen from the Bible, Bondaruk said.
They were "a very good family and very good Christians," she said.
The children's father, Denis Bukhantsov, arrived home Tuesday afternoon and found the grisly scene, Ramos said.
There were signs of trouble a day before the slayings, said neighbor Alex Oropesa.
"They did have a family issue the day before," Oropesa said. "I just know that they had a lot of people over the day before dealing with issues."
Oropesa said she could not say exactly what the problems were because the family was speaking Ukrainian, which she can't understand.
She said there appeared to be only "a little bit of arguing."
On the day of the slayings, Oropesa said she heard some tires screech, but otherwise nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
The killing also had parallels to another tragic slaying in Sacramento County's Ukrainian community. Nikolay Soltys 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.
Andre Bondaruk said Bukhantsov's parents used to live next to him in Carmichael, another Sacramento suburb. He said Grigoriy Bukhantsov had a history of causing trouble at the family's former home, such as assaulting a sister and picking fights with neighbors.
"Trouble is a light word for it," Bondaruk said. "He made serious threats. He compared himself to Soltys."
There are more than 100,000 members of the Russian-speaking community in the Sacramento area, said David Ponomar, who owns the Sacramento-based Afisha Media Group, which includes a Russian-language newspaper, magazine, radio programs and TV programs.
Maria Murguia, who lives next door to the home where the slayings occurred, said she didn't know the family well, but would often say hello to them, especially when she saw the children playing in the backyard. She said she never heard any yelling or fighting coming from the home.
"They were a normal family. I heard the babies playing in the backyard and saw their mother giving them food sometimes. I never see anything," she said. "I don't know what happened, and I'm so sad because those are little kids."
Associated Press writer Juliet Williams contributed to this report.