Rowan Baxter: Outcry after family of ex-rugby player die in fire

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Hannah Baxter / FACEBOOK

The deaths of three children and their mother in a car fire in the Australian city of Brisbane have sparked outrage, amid reports they were killed by the father, ex-rugby player Rowan Baxter.

Mr Baxter’s wife Hannah and their three children were killed by the blaze on Wednesday. He also died at the scene.

Some Australian media say he doused the white SUV in petrol and set it alight before stabbing himself.

But police say it is too early to be sure how the fire started.

“How the fire actually occurred has not been ascertained at the moment so for us to call it a murder-suicide or a tragic accident, it’s inappropriate at this stage,” Detective Inspector Mark Thompson said.

He went on to say that while he had seen “some horrific scenes” in his job, this was one of the worst.

What do we know?

Police were first called to the scene in the Camp Hill area in the east of Brisbane at 08:30 local time on Wednesday (21:30 GMT on Tuesday).

They found the couple’s three children Laianah, Aaliyah and Trey – aged between six and three – dead inside the car.

Emergency crews tried to revive Rowan Baxter, 42, but he was declared dead.

Australian media report that he was found close to the car with a self-inflicted stab wound.

His wife, Hannah Baxter, aged 31, died later in hospital from extensive burns. She had reportedly jumped from the car yelling: “He’s poured petrol on me.”

Rowan Baxter had been in the front passenger seat and his wife had been driving the car, police said.

The pair had reportedly separated late last year, and were trying to work out custody arrangements.

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ABC NEWS/ LEXY HAMILTON-SMITH

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A crime scene was put in place in Brisbane’s Camp Hill area

Paramedics said they had also treated a passerby, who had “tried his best to get to the car”. He had suffered some “facial burning” and also been taken to hospital, a Queensland Ambulance spokesman said.

Rowan Baxter formerly played for the New Zealand Warriors rugby league team in Auckland and had also been running a gym called Integr8 with his wife in Capalaba to the east of Brisbane.

The gym’s website describes her as “an enthusiastic, passionate mother of three” and a trampolining champion who represented Queensland for four consecutive years and also achieved international medals.

What has the reaction been?

Unconfirmed reports that Mr Baxter killed his family have been met with widespread condemnation online. The hashtag #HannahBaxter has been trending on Twitter in Australia.

Former Olympic cyclist Tracy Gaudry said: “#HannahBaxter and her three young children died today in the most despicable way. They should have been safe. Mourning for lives lost, thoughts with family, friends and community.”

“Another week, another man annihilates his wife and family. Australia, we need to talk,” said Australian poet Rob Scott.

The deaths come amid anger over several recent high profile murders and a debate over domestic violence in Australia.

On average, one woman per week is murdered in Australia by a current or former male partner, according to White Ribbon Australia.

Many people criticised media outlets for failing to name Mr Baxter as a murderer.

“Rowan Baxter set fire to his own wife and kids – but you wouldn’t know that from a lot of media headlines,” said columnist Arwa Mahdawi on Twitter.

However, police say they are still investigating what happened. Officers have been searching the Baxter family home in Camp Hill.

Queensland’s Police Minister Mark Ryan told parliament about the “horrific incident” in Brisbane on Wednesday, saying: “My thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible tragedy.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his “heart goes out to the families and community going through this tragic time and the emergency responders confronting what would be a shattering scene”.

Federal MP Terri Butler said she was “horrified and devastated” by the incident.

If you or someone you know needs support for issues about domestic abuse, in Australia you can contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636. In the UK these organisations may be able to help.