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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Thousands Mourn Murdered Family

SACRAMENTO, California — A church filled with thousands of mourners from a religious community in shock held a funeral Sunday for six members of a Ukrainian family killed by someone law enforcement officials say is one of its own.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department and other law enforcement agencies provided security usually reserved for dignitaries as more than 5,000 mourners crowded Bethany Slavic Missionary Church east of Sacramento, where the four-hour service was held. While men and women wept before the six open caskets, including those of three children, the hunt continued for Nikolay Soltys, 27, the only suspect in the Aug. 20 killings of his pregnant wife, his 3-year-old son, two young cousins, an aunt and an uncle.

Soltys, a most-wanted fugitive on the FBI list, was believed to be hiding in this area. About eight of his relatives had been taken to an undisclosed location by sheriff's officials for protection, Blanas said, but they came out of seclusion Sunday for the service.

At the church, a congregation of mostly evangelical Christian refugees from the former Soviet Union who have settled in Sacramento over the last decade sat with stunned and tearful faces and groped for words of comfort for the surviving relatives, including the suspect's mother, Varvara Soltys.

The murders have puzzled law enforcement officials, who say they have not found a motive, and caused pain and fear in the 75,000-member Slavic community in Sacramento, believed to be home to the United States' largest population of evangelical Christian refugees from the former Soviet Union.

Soltys settled with his parents in New York in 1998, then moved to Sacramento last year to live with other relatives until he, his wife and his son moved to their own house two months ago.

A shoemaker by trade with no known permanent employment, Soltys had no criminal record in the United States, but family members told investigators he had a history of domestic violence and extortion. Soltys was known to be a violent husband whose beatings kept his wife, Lyubov, 22, from joining him in the United States until less than a year ago, family members said.

"She reluctantly agreed to come to America," said her oldest brother, Anatoliy Nakonechnaya, speaking at Sunday's service.

In the North Highlands section of Sacramento County, where the Soltys family lived in a gray, one-story duplex, neighbors said his wife looked depressed. She was active as a member of Bethany Slavic Missionary Church and was about to start a new job as a cashier the day she was killed, investigators said.

Soltys' application for membership in the church had been put on hold after he failed to say whether he had left his church in the Ukraine "in peace," as part of the usual questions to prospective members, said Valentin Kalinovskiy, the secretary of the church.

In the rampage that took place last Monday morning, Soltys is suspected of stabbing his wife, then driving to the house and slashing his uncle, aunt and their 9-year-old grandchildren to death.

Sheriff's officials say Soltys showed up bloody and disheveled at his mother's house, where he picked up his 3-year-old son, Sergey, who was found dead the next day in an empty field, with his throat cut, in a cardboard box full of brand-new toys apparently used to lure him.

That evening, investigators found Soltys' car near his mother's house and recovered a note with information about the location of the boy's body and a picture of Soltys and his wife. Scribbled on the back was "For her tongue," referring to his wife. Sheriff's officials said the word "tongue'" possibly referred to speaking behind his back.

Soltys' mother at first told detectives that her son seemed normal when he arrived at her house to pick up his son. She later recanted and told them her son was "hurried" and bloodied and that he cleaned himself up at her suburban Sacramento home.

Last Friday night, she made an appeal for her son to surrender on a video aired on a Russian cable TV channel.

On Sunday, the bodies of Lyubov Soltys and her son were headed back to Ukraine. The four other victims were buried in a Bethany Slavic Missionary Church cemetery not far from the church.