Written by Floyd Alvin Galloway
Tempe Police are calling the death of five family members on October 18, a murder-suicide. According to police, Glenn Baxter, 27, deliberately drove his grey SUV into Tempe Town Lake after midnight, killing his wife and three children.
“We still don’t know what happened inside that vehicle. But what we do know is Mr. Baxter took deliberate action in driving his family into that lake,” Lt. Mike Pooley said during a press conference. “This was not an accident.”
A surveillance video and eye witness accounts show Baxter drive a Nissan Armada down the walk way on the northeast side of the lake near Rural Road bridge. Lt. Poole said Baxter droves down the embankment, got out of his SUV and walked towards the lake. Poole continued that Baxter got back into the SUV, backed up then drove forward down the path at a high rate of speed. Baxter then made a sharp left that flipped the vehicle upside down into the lake.
Witnesses on the south side of the lake saw the incident and called 911.
The witnesses then drove to the other side and jumped in pulling out, Baxter’s wife, Danica, 25. Police and fire personnel pulled Baxter and two of the children out of the SUV. The third child was not discovered until later, fasten in his car seat in the last seat in the vehicle.
A makeshift memorial lines the sight where the vehicle plunged into the lake, killing son Reighn, 3, son Nazyiah, 2, and 6-month-old daughter Zariyah, along with their mother Danica and her estranged husband Glenn. Skid marks are still visible on the low concrete wall.
According to reports, the couple was having martial problems, separated and not living together because of the husband’s severe anger issues before the tragedy. Reportedly, Baxter was distraught and spiraling into dangerous depression over his wife’s plans to divorce him and had previously made threats, saying he would kill his family if she left him.
The couple had been married for three years. No one knows why Danica had agreed to meet with Baxter late at night. She had considered dropping the children off at an aunt’s house but changed her mind. Authorities are not sure if her husband was responsible for her to change her mind.
“I believe he forced her to go with him,” said Monika Nathan, a longtime family friend. Nathan was Danica’s high school counselor. The two remained close and Nathan, a minister, officiated the couple’s wedding.
“There was no way she would have left that late at night with the babies.” Baxter drove his car to Danica’s townhome and they were in her SUV when the incident happened noted Nathan. A gun was found in the vehicle, but according to Poole was not discharged.
The Baxters were separated since the beginning of the year according to Nathan who said she feels compassion for Glenn, but he needed help. No one really got involved until it was too late she noted. “Danica was a beautiful person. She did everything for those children,” said Nathan.
Bessie Britt, Danica’s grandmother echoes Nathan’s sentiments. “Danica was the love of my life – my oldest granddaughter. Those children were her life,” expressed Britt. Britt says everyone her granddaughter came in contact with became a friend. “Everyone loved her. She was very outgoing and caring and very responsible person for being so young.”
Britt’s daughter, Tamika Franklin also commended her niece’s level of maturity. “Yes, she was very loving and caring person and did everything for her kids.” Franklin said when her niece reached her dream, when she had her daughter. “Zariyah was her princess. She always wanted a girl and when her dream came true, she said she was finished,” said Franklin.
According to Franklin, the estranged husband could be very moody at times, but the family didn’t have any indication about the level of abuse that may have occutred. “They hid very well.”
The murder-suicide incident has sent shock waves across the country, with domestic-violence and crisis organizations calling on individuals to seek help and take threats seriously. A vigil was held at Tempe Beach Park Sunday afternoon to remember the slain mother and children.
The vigil was beautiful. “So many people came out and showed their support and that they cared,” Britt says. Organized by her daughter-in-law, Collette Pierson and two domestic violence organizations, Fem Static and the Arizona Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Over 100 individuals participated in the vigil. Pierson says a number people and organizations from across the Valley have reached out to the family.
While many in the Black community believe that suicide is a “white person’s issue,” more and more research is finding that suicide rates among African-Americans are on the rise, especially among young Black men. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third cause of death among African-American males between ages 15 and 24, behind homicide and accidents. Also, suicide death rates among Black men are five times that of Black women. There are several resources available to those comptemplating suicide and violence that can assist in deescalating situations.
Services for the Danica Baxter and the children are scheduled for November 3 at Berean Church, 3102 N 29th Ave. in Phoenix. A GoFundMe account has been set up to help cover funeral expenses: gofundme.com/danicabaxter.