There is a stifling, almost unbearable heaviness in our collective Aussie hearts today. It’s the unmistakable grief that comes with the loss of vibrant, innocent lives, a horror only made worse in the knowledge that those lives were ripped away by hands that should have been nurturing them. Loving them. Protecting them.
We are all mourning the loss of Hannah Baxter, 31, and her three children, Aaliyah, 6, Lainah, 4, and Trey, 3, who all died yesterday in a shockingly violent attack. The alleged perpetrator wasn’t a stranger. He wasn’t a nameless, faceless thief or boogeyman. He was the man who promised to love and cherish Hannah forever; the man who likely tucked all three kids safely into their beds countless times. The same man who probably stayed up late on Christmas Eve assembling gifts, who helped those babies blow out birthday candles when their tiny lungs couldn’t do it on their own.
Yesterday, whatever good Rowan Baxter may had done in his life was forever overshadowed by the evil deed that robbed the world of four innocent people who did not deserve to die – and he most certainly had no right to take.
As is often the case with horrific crimes such as the murders of Hannah and her children, the narrative around the mental health of the perpetrator is starting to creep in – and of course, mental health issues are real. They are often deep and troubling. They can cause people to act in ways they usually wouldn’t. They can cause us to spiral into low, overwhelming pits of despair.
However, I can’t accept that mental health is an excuse for waiting for your tiny children to be buckled safely into their car seats before pouring petrol over them and their mother and setting them alight.
This was violence. It was premeditated murder. It was control and power at its ugliest and my fear is that in defining this man’s abhorrent actions as a result of mental illness, or even immense grief at the separation of his family, it overshadows the core issue of domestic and family violence.
While not much is known surrounding the circumstances of Hannah and Rowan’s recent separation, a fundraising page set up to assist with funeral costs pointed towards ongoing domestic violence in the relationship via Hannah’s sister-in-law, Stacey Clarke, who wrote: “We need your help to support her parents, Sue and Llyod who have exhausted themselves to try and help Hannah escape this monster.”
The sad fact of the matter is this – family violence will continue. It happened long before Hannah and her children left this world yesterday and it will undoubtedly happen again. The current system needs to change. Women need help and they need to feel supported and above all, safe, when leaving abusive and controlling partners. Hannah deserved it. Aaliyah, Lainah and Trey deserved it. And every other woman and child in this country deserves it too.
If you or someone you know is in need of advice or help, please contact one of the family violence support services listed below:
1800 Respect National Help Line: 1800 737 732
Relationships Australia: 1300 364 277
Lifeline: 131 114
Men’s Referral Service: 1300 364 277