Unspeakable tragedy destroys picture-perfect family

 

THE Baxters appeared picture perfect - an athletic and successful couple with three beautiful children.

But then, an unthinkable horror - an act so evil it reverberated across the nation - would shatter that illusion.

Hannah Baxter bundled her kids into her SUV like thousands of other Brisbane mums yesterday when her estranged husband, Rowan, doused the family with petrol and set the car alight.

Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4 and Trey, 3 died in the back. Hannah was dragged out screaming "he's poured petrol on me" as her body was on fire.

Hannah (top left) and Rowan Baxter (top centre) with children Aaliyah, 6 (bottom centre), Laianah, 4 (bottom right) and Trey, 3 (top right).
Hannah (top left) and Rowan Baxter (top centre) with children Aaliyah, 6 (bottom centre), Laianah, 4 (bottom right) and Trey, 3 (top right).

Rowan plunged a knife into his chest. But not before he shouted at those brave people who ran for hoses that he wanted them to let his family burn.

It was shocking. Unbelievable. Unthinkable.

Raven St in Camp Hill runs off Old Cleveland Rd. It's a street of manicured gardens, renovated character homes and modern townhouses.

But a bang, an explosion and then screams brought the residents of Raven St running.

Hannah was driving to nearby Belmont State School.

A map showing where the tragedy unfolded in Brisbane's usually quiet eastern suburbs.
A map showing where the tragedy unfolded in Brisbane's usually quiet eastern suburbs.

She was pulling out of her parents' home in a nearby street when it is believed Rowan jumped into the passenger seat. She drove, but then pulled over a street away, screaming for help. The car exploded into flames.

Rowan set his family alight and watched the flames take hold, shouting at neighbours who tried to put them out.

Hannah was pulled from the car, her clothing aflame. She would die hours later.

Rowan, 42, in the passenger seat, plunged the knife into his chest, dying at the scene.

A police officer inspects the remains of Hannah Baxter’s burnt-out car following the shocking incident. Picture: AAP/John Gass
A police officer inspects the remains of Hannah Baxter’s burnt-out car following the shocking incident. Picture: AAP/John Gass

Aaron Snell, who lives metres from where the horrific murder-suicide unfolded, said he ran to what he thought was a road-rage incident.

"As I came to the front after calling triple-0, I saw her (Hannah). She was smoking, her body was smoking and on fire," he said. "They'd pulled her out and they were hosing her down on the road, trying to put the flames out. And he (Rowan) was across the road."

The former footballer was aggressive, Mr Snell said, and he didn't know what to do.

"I'm trying to suss out the situation, whether I could do CPR or not and he was just in all matter of states," he said.

"And then he jumped into the full flaming car, into the front seat to grab a knife. He stabbed himself in the chest.

"That's when he's dropped to his knees and went down head first, then he jumped up again, and then he fell flat."

Neighbours ran with fire extinguishers. They tried to put the flames out. Reached for the children. One man was burned in his efforts and would be taken to hospital.

Their heroics angered Rowan, according to Mr Snell.

"He was protesting to stop (us) putting it out," he said. "He was so angry and just going absolutely crazy. It appeared like he wanted it to burn."

One neighbour said Hannah, 31, was conscious throughout the tragedy.

"She was awake and conscious and completely aware of what had happened," they said. "Skin was peeling off her, and she held her hands up … it was really quite horrific."

Andrew Sinclair, who lives 100m away, came running.

"She was looking directly at me, just staring," he said. "The look of hurt looking straight at me and seeing her clothing being burnt with her skin coming off her body, it was an awful thing to see."

 

Police investigators work the crime scene. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Police investigators work the crime scene. Picture: Steve Pohlner

 

 

Queensland Ambulance Service’s Adrian Tong. Picture: Steve Pohlner
Queensland Ambulance Service’s Adrian Tong. Picture: Steve Pohlner

The calls to triple-0 came at 8.30am. Police, firefighters and paramedics all rushed to the scene. The Queensland Ambulance Service sent high-acuity paramedics and a medical director.

The children were dead. They attempted to revive their father. Hannah was rushed to hospital with severe burns and died last night.

Neighbours said a woman had doused her with a hose as Hannah stood burning.

"She was upright, standing with her hands spread open to let the water take its full effect. A very kind lady was hosing her down, I don't know who she is but it was a great act of kindness and that woman is a champion of our neighbourhood for doing that while being confronted with everything," Mr Sinclair said.

In state parliament, while doctors were working to keep Hannah alive, Police Minister Mark Ryan got to his feet.

"Today is a very sad day," he said. "I have just been informed by the Police Commissioner that three people have died, including children, in a horrific incident at Camp Hill this morning."

The athletic family often posted on social media.
The athletic family often posted on social media.

It would only be later that police would reveal the fourth, self-inflicted death. Hannah succumbed to her injuries hours later.

It is understood police were called to a family violence incident in January. The couple were said to be working on custody arrangements.

Child Safety had been aware of the Baxters due to Rowan's escalating violence.

Before Hannah left, before she fled the family home, the Baxters had appeared picture perfect through the rose-tinted facade of social media.

They'd lived in a low-set brick home at Carindale where Rowan - a one-time NRL-contracted player from New Zealand - and his wife ran a Crossfit gym.

Rowan posted often about his wife, writing gushing birthday messages and posting their wedding photos.

Hannah Baxter (right) and son Trey.
Hannah Baxter (right) and son Trey.

But by December, he was posting frequently about his children, about missing them.

Neighbours told The Courier-Mail Hannah left the family home in December and they saw her just once, bringing the children for a visit.

"Sweet dreams my babies," he wrote on January 6, "Love you to the moon and back".

Then, on Thursday, he posted a photograph of his youngest, Trey, clutching his chest in laughter.

"Love you to the moon and back," he wrote.

Police cordon off Rowan Baxter’s house on Bridgnorth St, Carindale. Picture: Liam Kidston
Police cordon off Rowan Baxter’s house on Bridgnorth St, Carindale. Picture: Liam Kidston

Neighbours of the former family home, where Rowan had remained, said his behaviour had become increasingly concerning since Hannah left.

He had been reclusive. The same clothes had been on the clothesline for weeks.

Members of the school community and friends said the same. They used words such as "escalating" and "concerning".

Then, on Tuesday night, neighbours saw him arrive home in a black SUV.

He left in it again - alone - early yesterday morning.

Soon after, he was dead, his children were dead, his wife would die later.

And a city and a nation were left stunned trying to come to grips with an unthinkable act of evil.



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