A father who torched his estranged wife’s car with their three children inside escaped the inferno and stabbed himself to death as he watched his children perish.
Rowan Charles Baxter’s three children, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, all died when the family’s white SUV was set alight at Camp Hill, in Brisbane’s south east, at about 8.20am on Wednesday.
Hannah Baxter, the children’s mother, 31, was driving the Kia Sportage and is in a critical condition in hospital after suffering ‘significant’ burns in the blaze.
The 42-year-old former NRL player jumped in the car as Ms Baxter strapped the children in to do the school drop off.
She was parked down the road from her parents home. Aaron Snell, a neighbour who witnessed the horror said he initially thought he was watching a road rage attack before he realised the gravity of the situation.
By the time he reacted, Ms Baxter had escaped from the car and was rolling on the footpath in an attempt to smother the flames. A Good Samaritan was also trying to hose her down to stop the fire.
Witnesses said they heard her shouting ‘he’s poured petrol on me’ at the time.
Baxter was also still alive.
Inferno family: Hannah and Rowan Baxter, with their three children (from left to right) Aaliyah, Laianah and Trey, 3
Baxter flooded his Facebook site with photos and videos of his children, describing them as ‘my world’ – but is now suspected of killing them in a murder-suicide
Pictured: Rowan and Hannah Baxter. Hannah is now in hospital suffering serious burns after Rowan torched the car she was in with their children
The Baxters separated last year and the business they ran – Integr8 Fitness – reportedly closed its doors at the end of 2019
He was across the road, but returned to the car to salvage a knife. He then stabbed himself in the chest, Mr Snell said.
Mr Snell, who is trained in CPR, said he was trying to assess whether he could perform it on Baxter because he was ‘just in all matter of states,’ he told The Courier Mail.
‘As I came to the front after calling Triple-0, I saw her (Hannah). She was smoking, her body was smoking and on fire,’ Mr Snell said.
By this point, others were on the scene and trying to put out the fire in an attempt to save the children, who were still trapped inside.
Mr Snell believes Baxter attempted to stop them helping his children in his final moments.
‘He was so angry and just going absolutely crazy. It appeared like he wanted [the car] to burn,’ he said.
Queensland Police officers were called to a family violence incident allegedly involving the couple just last month
Baxter described himself as an accomplished body weight trainer, while his wife said she ‘was an enthusiastic, passionate mother of three’
Burned-out wreck: Rowan Charles Baxter, 42, and his three children, Aaliyah, six, Laianah, four, and Trey, three, all died when the family’s white SUV was set alight at Camp Hill
The blaze occurred in Camp Hill, described as an upmarket, family-oriented suburb in Brisbane’s east
CONFRONTING FOOTAGE SHOWS ROWAN BAXTER PRETENDING TO BREAK HIS SON’S NECK
Confronting footage has since surfaced of the father roughing his children up during a play fight in happier times.
In the vision, which Baxter uploaded to his Facebook account about a month ago, the three children giggled as he took turns grabbing them by the neck and pushing them away from him.
Trey, who was still in diapers at the time, eventually grew tired of the game after having his head slammed into a bed and ran off camera in tears.
Baxter laughed and continued playing with his two older girls.
The video was met with messages of support from his friends, who said he was teaching his children to have a thick skin.
‘That is the coolest bro. Kids love being roughed up then they don’t cry over every little thing. Awesome what you are doing,’ one said.
That same friend has since described Baxter’s reported actions as ‘inexcusable’.
‘What he has done is the saddest thing ever and inexcusable… I have nothing but good memories of the man and no one could have foreseen this happening. RIP to the little ones,’ he wrote underneath his original comment.
Baxter indicated the footage was taken just before bed time.
‘Sweet dreams my babies… love you to the moon and back,’ he wrote.
Baxter, an ex-New Zealand Warriors player, stabbed himself with a knife during the horrific attack on his family.
The couple had recently separated and shut down the business they ran together, Integr8 Fitness, based at Capalaba.
The car blaze occurred just metres from Hannah’s parents’ house.
In recent months, Baxter flooded his Facebook site with photos and videos of his children, describing them as ‘my world’.
‘T-R-E-Y, love you to the moon and back,’ he posted six days ago.
‘Goodnight my babies, Daddy loves you,’ he posted a month ago.
A police photographer is pictured at the Baxter home in the neighbouring suburb of Carindale following the horrific inferno in Camp Hill
A policeman is pictured at the brick-and-tile Carindale residence where the father and his family had lives. A friend described the Baxters as a ‘beautiful family’
Bodies were seen being loaded into the back of a funeral van on Wednesday afternoon, the family’s burnt-out Kia Sportage can be seen in the background being examined by police
On December 30, Baxter posted a photo of his three children saying ‘I miss you all’ .
Friends were worried.
Weightlifting friend Joey Abraham wrote to Baxter four days ago: ‘Chin up brother everything will work out just hang in there my bro.
‘A lot of people care about you and the situation you’re facing.’
A reeling Mr Abraham told Daily Mail Australia after the incident: ‘Rowan was in a real bad place there for a bit because of the separation.
‘If you knew Rowan when he at his best and to see him like last week then you know how far he’d fallen.
‘T-R-E-Y, love you to the moon in back’, Rowan Baxter wrote – before he was suspected of killing his children and himself. A friend, Joey Abraham, told him ‘chin up, everything will work out’
Baxter’s New Years’ Day post: The suspected killer NRL player brought in the new year with this post of his children in the shallows. ‘Goodnight ratbags always in my heart,’ it was captioned
A weightlifting friend said Baxter ‘was in a real bad place’ because of the separation from his wife
Sporting past: Rowan Baxter, right, during a New Zealand national premiership match in 2008, with Kelvin Wright and Anthony Swans. He also played for the NZ Warriors in the NRL
The family business: Rowan Baxter, Hannah Baxter and their three children pose in front of the company logo
Fitness coach: Mum Hannah Baxter managed to clamber out of her SUV but is fighting for life in hospital. Above, she holds her son Trey in a beach snap
Wreckage: This is the white Kia Sportage SUV that went up in flames in Camp Hill, in Brisbane’s south east, at about 8.20am on Wednesday
‘He was just a shadow of the person he used to be.
‘It’s just unbelievable that he could do this.
‘They were beautiful kids, they were a beautiful family.’
Queensland Police officers were called to a family violence incident that allegedly involved the couple just last month, The Courier-Mail reported.
But the family were not involved in any Family Court or Federal Circuit Court proceedings.
Rowan Baxter’s business website described him as an accomplished body weight trainer for NRL and AFL rugby league teams.
Social media photos showed Baxter training with Brisbane Broncos staff and posing with WWE’s The Undertaker and All Black Nathan Harris.
Meanwhile, Ms Baxter described herself as ‘an enthusiastic, passionate mother of three’.
She proudly told how she trained through each of her pregnancies and has won gold and silver medals for trampolining at international events.
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Ms Baxter proudly told how she trained through each of her pregnancies and had won medals at international trampolining events
BRISBANE CAR INFERNO: HOW THE BLAZE UNFOLDED
Just after 8am Wednesday, Rowan Baxter dived into his estranged wife’s car as she was preparing to do the school drop off.
He reportedly doused them all in petrol and set the car alight.
Neighbours reported hearing an explosion which sounded like a ‘gas bottle’ blast. At least four explosions followed.
A resident told The Australian newspaper a woman on fire leaped from the car, screaming: ‘He’s poured petrol on me’.
‘By that time you couldn’t get near the vehicle, unless you had a proper suit on, you were just no hope.
A second neighbour told Daily Mail Australia he watched as Ms Baxter was hosed down on a neighbour’s lawn as she rolled around to smother the flames.
‘She was in a bad way,’ he said.
The neighbour said he had spoken with a man who tried to rescue the children. The man said he noticed babies in the car and was crying.
The car reportedly rolled after the initial blast. Young tradesmen at a building site down the road rushed to the scene with timber to stop it.
Wendy Antoniou, who lives several houses up, told Daily Mail Australia: ‘I thought something had landed on my roof, it was like BANG – I could feel the vibration.’
‘I came around the side window – well, I nearly bloody died. The fire brigade was everywhere, ambulance was everywhere.
‘First of all I couldn’t even see the flames – then I could see all these flames high in the air!’
Ms Antoniou said she was so shocked by the blaze she threw up afterwards.
The local fire brigade is less than a kilometre away from the site of the tragedy and firefighters were at the blaze almost immediately.
A devastated woman, Jemimah Black, lays flowers at the scene of the inferno
Brisbane’s Lord Mayor Adrian Schrinner rests a teddy bear at a growing vigil in Camp Hill
Neighbours said all they could see was thick, black smoke – followed by flames reaching into the air