His wife, kids and sister-in-law were killed in their home in July. As he tries to move on, Leonid Milkin wants justice and to understand why they died.

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Leonid Milkin visits the house on Slater Avenue Northeast in Kirkland at least once a week.

He spots his children’s toys in the charred remains. Somewhere, his wedding ring lies among the ashes.

How they must have suffered, he thinks. His boys, his wife and her sister. He imagines their fear and pain as they were stabbed, one by one, that day in July.

Six months later, Milkin said, the shock is just beginning to give way to the reality that his family was killed and their home torched while he was deployed in Iraq.

On Tuesday, King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng said he will seek the death penalty against Conner Schierman, the neighbor accused of killing Olga Milkin, 28; her sister Lyubov Botvina, 24; and the Milkins’ two sons, Justin, 5, and Andrew, 3.

Schierman has pleaded not guilty.

Hours after the announcement, Milkin talked about the decision at his parents’ home in Mill Creek.

“All I want is justice,” he said.

And the answer to one question: Why?

Preserved moments

Pavel Milkin sat with his son at the dining table, inside the house that no longer echoes with his grandchildren.

Hundreds of pictures, some damaged by the fire, decorate the home. Blown-up portraits of Justin and Andrew rest on chairs near stuffed animals. There are photos of Olga, blond hair curled, wearing a pink sweater. Another shows the boys holding hands, asleep.

A collage of everyday moments, now preserved on white poster boards.

Pavel, 56, listened as his son spoke about moving forward with his life. Leonid plans to rebuild the Kirkland home. He’s waiting for the city to approve the building permits so he can get started this spring, he said.

His job as a sergeant in the Army National Guard keeps him busy. He is based at the Tacoma Armory. He volunteered to serve in Iraq after 9/11, and left for Baghdad in September 2005.

His tour of duty was supposed to end last September. Then he got the news.

He was sitting in his barrack, reading the Bible, when a soldier ran into the room and told him to see the Red Cross chaplain. An urgent message awaited him about his family.

“I said to myself, ‘Something bad happened. But they’re OK.’ “

According to court documents, Schierman told police that after a night of drinking vodka, he awoke from a blackout to a bloody scene in the victims’ house.

Detectives say he took a shower, changed into clothes he found in the home and drove to a nearby convenience store, where he purchased gasoline. He then allegedly returned to the house, doused it with gasoline and set it ablaze.

Schierman’s attorney has argued the death penalty would be unfair in his client’s case, citing the life sentence given to serial killer Gary L. Ridgway, who pleaded guilty to 48 counts of aggravated first-degree murder.

Leonid said he is trying to find forgiveness, but it hasn’t come yet.

“I’m learning to live without my family,” Leonid said. “It’s like a roller coaster. I have my ups and downs. One day I’m full of faith and I believe they’re in a better place, that they’re with God and nothing can ever hurt them … Then sometimes I feel like my life has ended.”

This is the part that tears at Leonid’s father. What he wouldn’t give, he said, to take away his son’s pain.

The family is of Russian origin, first living in Ukraine and then moving to Estonia before coming to the United States in 1989. Pavel found work as a welder, and they lived in an apartment before moving to Mill Creek.

“I spoke no English,” he said. “But I could feel the beauty of the people.”

He said he’s not sure how he will endure hearing the grisly details during the trial. But he will stand by Leonid’s side.

“I am his father. He is my son. He is my heart,” he said.

Lives intertwined

Olga was the kind of girl who talked to everybody, Leonid said. Where he was the reserved, quiet type, she was the one who included everyone in a conversation.

The pair were high-school sweethearts and married on Jan. 24, 1998. He was 21, she was 20.

As their lives intertwined, so did their families.

Justin was the first grandchild in the Milkin family. A curious, spirited boy, he was idolized by his younger brother, Andrew, who copied everything he did.

Leonid’s parents thought of Olga — and even her sisters — as their daughters. They shared meals, troubles and joy around the dining table at the Mill Creek home.

Now the families seek each other out in their grief. Every week, they get together to drink tea and talk about Olga, Lyubov and the boys, Leonid said. He often plays videos of footage he took from the last time he saw them last May.

“You feel like they’re alive,” he said.

Pain is a strange thing, he said. Sometimes it hits with ferocity. And the next moment, it can numb your senses.

He is steeling himself for Schierman’s trial in March. He plans to attend every day, he said.

“I just want to comprehend and understand why he did this,” Leonid said. “The blood of my family cries out against him.”

He knows an answer may never come. In the meantime, he said, he has to keep on living. He holds on to the fragile hope that someday, he will have a family again, that happiness will come once more.

But for now, his wounds have not even begun to heal.

“This void just gets bigger and bigger,” he said. “Nothing can take my family’s place. When they died and went away, they took a very large part of me with them.”

Sonia Krishnan: 206-515-5546 or skrishnan@seattletimes.com