Happy family photos masked hidden torment that led to tragic inferno

Brooke Rolfe
News Reporter

From the outside they appeared the picture-perfect family.

After a fairytale wedding in 2012, Rowan and Hannah Baxter had three beautiful children, Aaliyah, 6, Laianah, 4, and Trey, 3.

Photos on their respective social media accounts appear to depict a shared love for fitness and their kids, with albums showing their smiling faces and the family of five posing happily together.

The images don’t show the turmoil that unfolded in the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s tragedy when four of the family died in a car fire in a quiet suburban street, in Brisbane’s Camp Hill.

Hannah died a few hours after her kids, succumbing to severe injuries in hospital. Police say former New Zealand Warriors rugby league player Rowan Baxter, who was with the kids in the burning car, died of self-inflicted injuries.

The couple had reportedly been separated since December and police are investigating if the deaths were a murder-suicide at the hands of Baxter, 42.

Social media portrayed a happy and active couple with endless love for their beautiful children. Source: Facebook

Rowan and Hannah Baxter ran a CrossFit gym called Integr8 Functional Training in Capalaba, in east Brisbane and until their split late last year, appeared to be a happy couple – at least on social media.

But the final time Mr Baxter referenced his wife on Facebook was in October last year when he shared a video from the gym during a kid’s training session.

“Hannah in her element making the class fun for the kids,” he wrote.

Hannah and the kids reportedly moved out of the family’s rented home in December after the relationship fell apart, according to a neighbour of the family, with the dad barely seen leaving the house and having dry washing on the line for months at a time, The Courier Mail reported.

“(Mr Baxter) had been basically home on his own, except he had the kids for one Sunday about three weeks ago,” the anonymous neighbour told the publication this week.

“There was obviously something wrong because (Ms Baxter) disappeared in early December and he’s been home on his own with the dog.”

This photo from the couple's wedding in 2012 was shared multiple times online. Source: Facebook

‘Soul mates’ and ‘best friends’

In March last year Ms Baxter uploaded a photo to Facebook of herself smiling alongside Mr Baxter, who held his son in one arm and placed his other around her waist as their two girls stood cheerily in front.

Earlier the same year, she shared a link to a GoFundMe page established by her then husband, which was raising money for her to travel to a CrossFit competition in New Zealand called Fittest Mum.

Mr Baxter expressed his admiration of his wife’s work in their gym frequently online, particularly when it came to the classes she ran for children.

“My wife does a brilliant job with the kiddies,” he wrote in one instance.

A post of the popular “10 year challenge” to Mr Baxter’s page in February last year referenced Ms Baxter as his “world” and “soulmate”.

“Hard to believe we have had three children in only five of those years. Love you to the moon and back #myworld #batting #love #soulmate,” he wrote.

It wasn’t the only time he expressed these sentiments, calling his wife his “best friend” and “soul mate” in a post wishing her a Happy Birthday.

Six-year-old Aaliyah, four-year-old Laianah and three-year-old Trey pictured with their dad Rowan Baxter. Source: Facebook

“You have given me three beautiful children which I am eternally grateful for. I could not imagine my life without you,” the post said.

“Although I cannot spoil you with the riches you deserve for the sacrifices you have made for me. I will be the best dad and husband I can be until the day I die. You complete me. Love you lots, Rowdog.”

Hannah too referenced him as her “soul mate”.

Another seemingly heartfelt post from the dad was a photo of his three kids with Ms Baxter who can be seen holding a bunch of flowers.

“Surprise picnic in the back yard. Trying to put a smile on some little dials,” he wrote.

“Making sure my girls know I love them,” he said, using the hashtags #daddysgirls and #love.

Mr Baxter praised his wife Hannah for her work in the gym. Source: Facebook

Away from social spotlight tension builds

Away from social media the couple’s relationship was unravelling.

Mr Baxter had tried to reinforce to his Facebook following his love for his three children. He posted pictures and videos in January expressing his love for his kids and a picture of his son a week ago.

But those close to him knew about the couple’s struggles and the affect it may have been having on both of them.

Six days ago his friend, Joey Abraham, wrote under a photo of youngest child Trey: “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 (sic).”

Tributes have flowed in for the family since Wednesday’s incident.

Friend Samantha Tone took to Facebook late on Wednesday mourning Ms Baxter’s death.

“We have had so many laughs and good times,” she said.

“Your aura would bring light and happiness to any room you were in. You will be so missed.”

Investigations at the scene following the incident. Source: AAP

Witnesses recall ‘horrific’ incident

Several witnesses have since recalled the events that led to the five deaths, describing a scene of horror as raging flames engulfed the family’s SUV.

Bystanders in the quiet suburb of Camp Hill describe seeing Mr Baxter jump into the vehicle as Ms Baxter set off for the children’s school and set it alight, The Courier Mail reported.

Leaving the vehicle, Mr Baxter returned to the vehicle before plunging a knife into his chest, according to witness Aaron Snell.

“He jumped into the full flaming car, into the front seat to grab a knife. He stabbed himself in the chest,” he told The Courier Mail.

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

At the same time horrified neighbours were rushing to the aid of Ms Baxter, who was screaming for help.

Neighbours report hearing her shout: “He’s poured petrol on me”.

She managed to escape the car however was enwrapped in flames.

Ms Baxter pictured with her three children. Source: Facebook

Neighbour Andrew Sinclair said he saw Ms Baxter standing in the road with skin coming off her badly burnt body.

“The pain she would have been suffering mentally and physically – she was conscious during this time – would have been horrific,” he told the Today show on Thursday morning.

Witnesses say Mr Baxter became angry as they rushed to the car to try and save those inside.

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

One neighbour is being hailed a hero among residents as she rushed from her home with a hose and tried to extinguish Mr Baxter.

“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.

Readers seeking support and information about suicide prevention can contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636, Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467.

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

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