It was supposed to be a routine pick-up of children between two estranged parents – an uncomfortable activity, but one that happens countless times in America every day.
Last Wednesday night, Vadym Kholodenko called his wife, Sofia Tsygankova, at her home in Benbrook, Texas, to confirm that he was going to pick up the children at 9:20 the following morning, according to police. The details of the conversation aren’t known, but Kholodenko arrived the next day expecting to get his daughters, 5-year-old Nika and 1-year-old Michela.
Instead, he was faced with tragedy. The two girls were dead, and his wife, from whom he filed for divorce last November, had stab wounds. Kholodenko then called 911.
The girls were not stabbed. Police are awaiting toxicology reports to determine what killed them.
Police are confident that Kholodenko, 29, a world-renowned pianist, had nothing to do with the murders.
“His reaction was pretty much what I would expect; it was appropriate for the situation. That’s the best way I could put it,” Benbrook Police Commander David Babcock tells PEOPLE. “We’ve seen absolutely no indication of deception on his part. We just don’t think he was involved in the homicides.”
Asked if it’s possible that Tsygankova, 31, killed her daughters, Babcock wouldn’t answer outright, saying the department “is going to be very careful to cover all bases and not be narrowly focused. But at this point, there is not a particular individual out there that we’re looking at who’s on the loose or anything of that nature. I don’t feel like there’s any imminent danger.”
As of Friday night, Tsygankova was still in the hospital, but she’s expected to make a full recovery, Babcock says.
“We saw nothing of a physical nature,” Babcock says. “They looked like two little girls asleep.”
The police commander says he has to fight off emotions when he thinks about the young father finding his girls: “I can’t imagine. I’d be a bowl of Jell-O if it happened to me.”
Kholodenko, born in Kiev, has performed as a pianist around the globe. In 2013, he won the gold medal at the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. The Dallas Morning News described one of his performances as “music-making as if from another world.”
The musician was scheduled to play with the Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra this weekend but he has since been replaced on the bill. The symphony issued a statement, saying it is “profoundly saddened by the tragic event suffered by our dear friend and artistic partner.”
Neighbor: ‘We Didn’t Think Someone Broke in and Did This’
Phil Davila, who lives next door to the duplex of Kholodenko’s estranged wife, says no one really knew anything about the couple until the tragedy occurred.
“I’ve seen her in the driveway, but I didn’t even know there were kids there,” Davila tells PEOPLE. “These are rentals; you get a lot of different people.”
He describes the quiet, well-kept neighborhood as “a great place to live. Across the way, you’ve got people walking and riding their bicycles all down the river. It’s kind of a neat little area.”
Even before the police stated that the area wasn’t in imminent danger, Davila says nobody was especially worried.
From the neighborhood’s perspective, “we didn’t think someone broke in and did this,” he says. “It’s just not what happens.”
Of course, neighbors are sharing their theories about what happened to the family, but all of the facts haven’t come to light.
“It’s weird and really sad – anything to do with children is,” Davila says. “So that’s the hard part.”