The tragic death of a former Tauranga rugby player, his wife and three young children has left their families, friends and former colleagues reeling. Sandra Conchie reports.
"Totally devastating and tragic."
That's the reaction from past colleagues of former Tauranga rugby player Rowan Baxter who along with his three children died in a horrific car fire in Brisbane yesterday.
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Rowan Baxter, a member of the 2005 Warriors squad, died in the fire that was allegedly deliberately lit in Camp Hill in an east Brisbane street yesterday.
His children Laianah, 4, Aaliyah, 6, and Trey, 3, died in the fire and his wife Hannah Baxter nee Clarke, 31, who fled the car has died overnight in a Brisbane hospital.
Australian media identified Rowan Baxter as one of the four victims and said that Hannah Baxter had reportedly scrambled from the car screaming: "He poured petrol on me."
She was taken to hospital with "extensive injuries" but has since died.
Rowan grew up in Tauranga and he was a contracted player with the New Zealand Warriors, although he did not play an NRL game.
He also represented the New Zealand A team a year earlier.
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Rowan was the brother of former rugby star Charles, who played as a wing for the Bay of Plenty Steamers and represented New Zealand on the international sevens circuit for five seasons between 2003 and 2007.
Rowan turned to fitness coaching after his playing career and worked with several current NRL stars and owned a gym Integr8 Fitness in Capalaba with wife Hannah.
It is understood the couple were involved in a custody dispute and police are combing the former Baxter family home for clues as to what happened in the lead-up to the tragedy.
"It's totally devastating," says former All Black Hika Reid, who lives in Rotorua.
Reid said he coached both Rowan and his brother Charles, who lives in Tauranga, in the 2003/2004 Bay of Plenty Rugby Union development squad.
A stunned Reid, born and bred in Ngongotahā, last year returned to coach the Ngongotahā premier side.
Reid told the Bay of Plenty Times that as soon as he saw the photograph of Rowan in news reports memories of the young man he had known came flooding back.
"It is very sad to think that things got so bad that it has come to this. It's very unfortunate, and a tragedy that something like this could have even happened.
"I feel for all the guys who played with Rowan in the squad and all those who knew him, and I know they will all be hurting. It's totally devastating. It's come as a huge shock.
"My heart goes out to Charles and the rest of the Baxter family," he said.
"I remember Rowan as a young man with a big personality, and he was lots of fun. He was a talented footballer, who was very coachable and a very likeable young man.
"Rowan had a fun side when it came to training which always added a little extra spark to our training sessions but also he had a serious side when it came to the game he loved.
"He had a very professional approach. He was one of those players who could instantly 'switch on', on game day. Because of his personality, Rowan always added that real spark to any game," he said.
"Rowan was really well-liked by all the others guys. He and Charles were both talented players, and they were the glue which held the development squad together."
Reid said he had lost touch with Rowan after he himself headed overseas in 2005 but had never forgotten the time he had spent coaching him and Charles.
"It's just so sad, and tragic," he said.
Hooker Hikatarewa Rockcliffe "Hika" Reid represented both Bay of Plenty and Wellington at a provincial level and was an All Black between 1980 and 1986.
One of the Bay of Plenty's greatest All Blacks, Reid played 40 games as an All Black debuting in Australia in Sydney in 1980, including nine international tests.
In his second test in Australia, Reid became an instant legend when he scored a try from inside his own 22m.
Both Rowan and his brother Charles attended Tauranga Boys' College.
Principal Robert Mangan said Rowan was a student at the school from 1990 to 1994.
Mangan said Rowan was remembered as a "cheeky, mischievous, personable young man" who was a capable athlete.
"Our school is deeply shocked and saddened by this tragic event and our sympathies and condolences go out to the wider Baxter family," he said.
Long-serving staff member of Tauranga Boys' College Rob Leslie said he remembered both Baxter brothers attending the school, with Rowan standing out among his peers.
"I remember an impressive athlete who had a cheeky side to him," Leslie told the Herald.
Charles Baxter, who lives in Tauranga, told the Bay of Plenty Times that the family wouldn't be commenting at this time.
Hannah Baxter's sister-in-law Stacey Roberts has set up a Facebook fundraising page to raise money to cover the funeral costs. Roberts said on the page that Hannah's parents had "exhausted themselves trying to help Hannah escape this monster".
"For all those who knew Hannah or had even just met her once would know how much of a beautiful soul she was, her children were her life. All she ever wanted was happiness. Her children were only a reflection of her."
So far more than $73,100 has been raised, with a goal set to raise $104,578 for funeral costs and a memorial.
Tauranga Women's Refuge manager Hazel Hape said domestic violence was a "huge social problem" in the Bay.
Hape said there had been an increase in violence against women and children in the past year.
"Every day we see a woman who is suffering . . . Tauranga has a very violent community."
She said the refuge helped support women and their partners in a variety of ways, including counselling, protection orders and other support as needed.
Where to get help:
• Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• Youth services: (06) 3555 906
• Youthline: 0800 376 633
• Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
• Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
• Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
• CASPER Suicide Prevention
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE - DO YOU NEED HELP?
If it's an emergency and you feel that you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
If you're in danger now:
• Phone the police on 111 or ask neighbours of friends to ring for you.
• Run outside and head for where there are other people.
• Scream for help so that your neighbours can hear you.
• Take the children with you.
• Don't stop to get anything else.
• If you are being abused, remember it's not your fault. Violence is never okay.
Where to go for help or more information:
• Women's Refuge: Free national crisis line operates 24/7 - 0800 refuge or 0800 733 843 www.womensrefuge.org.nz
• Shine, free national helpline 9am- 11pm every day - 0508 744 633 www.2shine.org.nz
• It's Not Ok: Information line 0800 456 450 www.areyouok.org.nz
• Shakti: Providing specialist cultural services for African, Asian and middle eastern women and their children. Crisis line 24/7 0800 742 584
• Ministry of Justice: www.justice.govt.nz/family-justice/domestic-violence
• National Network of Stopping Violence: www.nnsvs.org.nz
• White Ribbon: Aiming to eliminate men's violence towards women, focusing this year on sexual violence and the issue of consent. www.whiteribbon.org.nz
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