Brisbane car fire: Hannah Baxter’s family say they tried to rescue her and children from violent husband

Michael McGowan and agencies
Photograph: Facebook

The parents of a 31-year-old woman killed in an horrific car fire with her three young children in Brisbane on Wednesday had “exhausted themselves” trying to help her escape the estranged husband allegedly responsible for their deaths.

Hannah Baxter died at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s hospital on Wednesday night, less than 24 hours after her estranged husband and the children’s father, former rugby league player Rowan Baxter, allegedly poured petrol on his family in a suspected domestic violence incident.

Aaliyah, six, Trey, three and Laianah, four died in a car after it burst into flames in Brisbane on Wednesday morning. Photograph: Facebook

The children – Laianah, four, Aaliyah, six, and Trey, three – died in the car after it burst into flames on a quiet suburban street in leafy Camp Hill, in Brisbane’s east, on Wednesday morning during their regular school run.

Lloyd Clarke, Hannah Baxter’s father, called his estranged son-in-law “scum” and a “monster”.

“He might have said he cared and loved his children but I know it was always about him coming first,” he said on social media.

“The scum rots in hell.”

Hannah Baxter’s brother, Nat Clarke, wrote he’d had his sister, nieces and nephew “taken from me in the worst way possible by a heartless monster they called there dad former NRL player Rowan Baxter”.

“Everyone who has been lucky enough to be apart of there lives would know just how sweet and loving these kids and my sister really were,” he wrote.

“The last thing my sister said to my wife was I’m so excited this year will be great. I’m so [grateful] she and I got to reconnect and become such close friends before this tragedy I will forever love you all.”

On Wednesday members of Hannah Baxter’s family set up a fundraising page for funeral costs and to support her parents, who, they said, had “exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster”.

Sister in-law Stacey Roberts said Hannah was “a beautiful soul” whose “children [were] her life”.

“All she ever wanted was happiness,” she said. “Her children were only a reflection of her. Gorgeous happy kids who held a massive piece in my heart and I’m sure many others cause that’s exactly what they were like. We will miss them all more than anything!”

Hannah Baxter with Trey. Photograph: Facebook

Police believe the estranged husband and father doused the car in petrol with his wife and children inside, before reportedly stabbing himself. He died at the scene.

Hannah Baxter had managed to get out of the burning car, but died from her injuries in hospital on Wednesday evening. Witnesses told reporters Baxter had run from the car screaming, “he’s poured petrol on me”.

Neighbours at the scene attempted to help the mother and children, including a man who “tried his best to get to the car” and received burns to his face.

Prime minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday the country was grieving for the mother and her children.

“Australians all over the country are just shocked, saddened and devastated about what has happened,” he said.

“Hannah and her three children so senselessly and maddeningly murdered in what has occurred in a terrible act of violence and it just grieves our hearts terribly today.”

On Wednesday Queensland MP Joe Kelly laid flowers at the scene and said he had been “sickened” to hear the news.

“I think this would would rock any community,” he said. “People are being killed by domestic violence every week in Australia and sadly it’s now our community’s turn. We have to continue to work really hard to stop people dying.

“To do that we have to change our attitudes and culture and we have to make sure that we treat people with respect and relationships are based on collaboration, not control.”

The estranged couple had owned a fitness business called Integr8 and are believed to have separated before Christmas last year. The family was not involved in any family court or federal court proceedings.

A former rugby league player and fitness coach, Rowan Baxter had been a member of the New Zealand Warriors NRL squad in the mid-2000s but did not play a first-grade game. His estranged wife was a trampolining champion.

In the months leading up to the alleged attack his Facebook page was littered with pictures and videos of the three children and comments like “loves them to the moon and back” and “daddy misses you all”.

Six days ago a friend posted: “Chin up brother everything will work out just hang in there my bro a lot of people care about you and the situation your facing.”

Queensland police have yet to confirm whether they believe the attack was a murder-suicide.

Neighbours reported hearing multiple explosions before seeing the SUV engulfed in flames in Raven Street about 8.30am on Wednesday.

Neighbour Murray Campbell said he heard a number of loud bangs.

“It was just horrible, multiple explosions, very loud,” he said.

A man who tried to help at the scene was also taken to hospital with facial burns.

Childhood Domestic Violence Australia CEO Tracy McLeod Howe said it was a tragedy.

In a statement on Wednesday afternoon police confirmed Rowan Baxter was declared dead at the scene after responding emergency crews attempted to revive him.

“Preliminary investigations indicate the woman was driving the car and the man was in the front passenger seat prior to the incident,” police said in a statement.

The Courier Mail reported the suburban Brisbane street had been blocked by crime tape at both ends, with police surrounding a car wrapped in orange plastic.

Neighbour Murray Campbell said he heard a number of loud bangs which sounded “very much like a gas cylinder explosion”.

He said he called triple zero, and did not see anyone run from the car, which was engulfed in flames.

Earlier, Queensland’s police minister, Mark Ryan, briefed parliament about the incident and confirmed that the victims included children.

“[It is] a horrific incident,” Ryan said. “The situation is at a very early stage and I am informed that police are investigating all of the circumstances surrounding this tragic set of events.

“My thoughts are with all of those affected by this terrible tragedy.”