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Buffalo Grove remembers ‘angels’ killed in murder-suicide

Community members, friends and neighbors gathered Friday in Buffalo Grove to remember Vera Kisliak and her daughters, Vivian and Amilia, while calling on each other and authorities to do more to prevent domestic violence.

About 100 people gathered at the Buffalo Grove Park District Community Arts Center to pay their respects and honor the lives lost last month in what authorities describe as a murder-suicide amid a contentious divorce.

Gazing reflectively and tearfully at an assortment of photos depicting happy moments from their lives, some placed l bouquets of flowers below a thoughtful memorial. One photo showed Vera at a pool holding Amilia as a baby with Vivian next to her flashing a smile while wearing pink floaties on her arms and another showed Vera and one of her daughters eating ice cream cones.

Police believe Andrei Kisliak killed his daughters, wife and mother, Lilia, on Nov. 30 before taking his own life.

Following a prayer and sermon from Holy Virgin Protection Russian Orthodox Cathedral Rev. Leonty Naidzions, speakers shared heartwarming stories of the Kisliaks, while expressing a sense of shock and grief that many are still beginning to process.

Liliya Dzhorayeva and her husband Giuseppe Vitulli, neighbors and friends of the Kisliak family, speak following the memorial service for Vera Kisliak and her two daughters, Vivian, 7, and Amilia, 4, at the Buffalo Grove Community Arts Center on Dec. 16, 2022.

Natasha Kuzmenko, who helped organize the memorial and a GoFundMe for the family following the deaths, shared how she and Vera became good friends after meeting in 2017. In the years following, they shared the news of their pregnancies, and ultimately began to raise their young children together as friends and playmates.

“She was such a devoted mother,” Kuzmenko said. “Always made sure her kids had homemade, nutritious meals at home. Vera always did her best, making sure the girls were hitting all their milestones.”

Flora Top, a Buffalo Grove resident who said she did not know the Kisliaks, said the community should talk about what could be done in the future “to prevent what happened.”

Sanja, a friend and neighbor who asked to be referred to only by her first name, told those present of Vera’s love for nature and the memories her own young children will carry from their days playing together.

“The view from our home will never be the same,” Sanja said tearfully. “Whenever I looked through those windows to check on my girls, Vera and her daughters were there. That will never happen again. I hope that they rest in peace and that they’re in a better place.”

Mourners arrive for the memorial service for Vera Kisliak and her two daughters, Vivian, 7, and Amilia, 4, at the Buffalo Grove Community Arts Center on Dec. 16, 2022.

Vivian’s second-grade teacher, Nikki Yario spoke about how blessed she and her students were to have “such a kind, loving and energetic classmate.”

“We continue to remember Vivian every day by writing her notes and drawing her pictures,” Yario said. “Her radiant smile will never be forgotten, those gorgeous blue eyes will continue to brighten my day and her adorable laugh will always bring a smile to my face.”

As speakers shared their grief and how they have been trying to process the tragedy, calls for action began to emerge.

Richard Montgomery, a private investigator and friend of the Kisliaks who attempted to help Vera during her divorce, said people need to act instead of not feeling it was “appropriate enough to jump that far” to intervene directly in a situation before it is too late.

“If not us, then who is going to do it?” he asked. “Bring up difficult issues and listen over and over and over again, even if people don’t want to talk about it, we need to let people know what’s going on. Say what’s hard to say, tell the whole damn truth. And we should really not allow the system and officials that failed these girls to remain the same system that our girls have to call for help.”

He said that, in his conversations with Vera, he tried to explain that there was help and she should not give up hope and should continue to take action to escape the situation.

“I don’t know many people that heard her talk about what she was going through that didn’t believe she was in serious danger,” Montgomery said. “We shouldn’t allow what happened to go unanswered and uninvestigated.”

Photo boards filled with images of Vera Kisliak and her daughters, Vivian, 7, and Amilia, 4, inside the memorial service for the Kisliaks at the Buffalo Grove Community Arts Center on Dec. 16, 2022.

Since a Dec. 5 news release in which Buffalo Grove police Chief Brian Budds announced that evidence shows Andrei Kisliak committed the slayings, Buffalo Grove police have denied multiple Freedom of Information Act requests from the Chicago Tribune, seeking records that detail multiple police contacts with the family, case reports and body camera or dash camera footage from those incidents.

State Sen. Adriane Johnson, who lives in Buffalo Grove, spoke about resources available to anyone experiencing domestic violence or friends who want to help someone escape domestic abuse.

“I think someone mentioned they didn’t have enough information to report (the situation) to the Department of Children and Family Services,” Johnson said. “Report it to my office. We will get you help.”

Baron Harmon, a neighbor who formed a friendship with the children and Vera while passing by the house on his frequent walks, shared a story about the family dog, Yosha, who he called “an alpha dog,” and then a tale about how Vivian was the “consummate sister.”

“I remember one time Amilia was doing one of those little girl things where they spin around and she kind of lost her balance and fell down and she hurt her knee,” Harmon said. “She started to cry. I remember Vivian coming over and kissing it and ended up giving her a graceful hug, like, ‘It’s gonna be OK.’ And it worked.”

As Harmon’s speech wound down, he looked up to the ceiling and said he was sure that Vera, Vivian and Amilia were “looking out for each other” in heaven, as they did throughout their lives. Then he recalled the morning snow, which blanketed the north suburb before the service began Friday.

“I thought, ‘How appropriate that we have the frozen tears of angels coming down,’” Harmon said. “Millions of angels, crying over this.”

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