Brookwater fire: How the family escaped

APRIL Wilmot has described the terrifying moment she and her family ran for their lives from their burning Brookwater home.   

It's the first time April, 23, has spoken out after the incident on Monday night when Neil De Graaf, 37, who died in hospital on Tuesday night, crashed his BMW through their garage door then doused the two-storey home with petrol before setting it alight.   

April had ended a relationship with Neil a year ago but reconnected after hearing he was struggling, hoping to help.   

"I didn't realise how much he had declined in that year," April said.   

"He was not in a good way mentally."  

In the weeks leading up this Monday's dramatic escape April had been ignoring Neil's messages and calls, after first trying other tactics to end their association, but spoke to him on the phone that night.   

At the time she had no idea he was already on his way to her Birchwood Cr home with pre-prepared jerry cans full of petrol.  

"He said, 'don't worry, I have another plan anyway', then hung up," April said.   

"Eight minutes later we heard the car come crashing through the garage door.  

"I thought, oh my god. This day has actually come. It's him. We knew from the second we heard the noises it was him and he was coming to kill us.  

"That was the only time I ever felt that pit in the stomach drop feeling… like I'm actually going to die."   

April said Neil had threatened her family a year ago and since she had been fearful one day she would become "that girl in the news", the one killed in a domestic violence incident.   

April's car, parked inside the garage, prevented the BMW from coming through the internal garage wall, fortunately as the table where the family had just sat down to eat pizza was on the other side.   

The family; April, her mother Tracey, her brother Shannon and his girlfriend, ran upstairs to the master bathroom, barricading themselves in.   

April used her mobile, which happened to be in her hand, to call 000; the other hand over her mother's mouth trying to muffle the screaming, hoping Neil wouldn't find where they were hiding.   

But before long he was beating on the door, trying to kick it in while mum Tracey used her body weight to keep it closed. They were screaming out the small bathroom window, begging the neighbours to call the police.  

"We saw what looked like water coming under the bathroom door and then it was just engulfed in flames within seconds," April said.   

"I screamed into the phone, 'we're going to die in here'.  

"I was screaming - a sound I never knew was possible to come out of a human's mouth, a blood curdling scream."  

Realising there was only one way out the family burst through the burning door, April's younger brother leading the way.   

The second April ran out the bathroom door into her mother's burning bedroom her dressing gown caught fire.   

Neil was lying on the floor in the foetal position, laughing, his clothes a blaze.  

"I was holding my hands out in front of me with my arms on fire," April said.  

"I can't even tell if I'm feeling any pain or if it's actually me that's on fire until I snap out of it and realised oh my god, it's not me, it's the dressing gown and I ripped the dressing gown off."  

The family spilled out onto the front lawn, Neil appeared moments later before collapsing; still on fire.   

Neighbours rushed to hose him down, but the burns covered more than 90% of his body and he died of his wounds.  

April said she and her family had often scoffed at people who survived miraculous events saying they felt as though someone was watching over them, but not any more.   

"We were so lucky that everyone's hair was up. It was the little things that saved us; my car was parked on the right side of the garage so his didn't go through the internal wall, I had my phone in my hand, we thought to run into a tiled room with a locked door," she said.  

"The fact that my mum had only just come home and if she hadn't come home when she did nobody would have had enough strength to stop him coming into the bathroom."  

April said while she feels empathy for Neil's family and believes the health system failed him, she can't shake the anger she feels towards him, and the media for the way some have reported the events and his character.   

"What sort of person laughs when they are on fire when they can see a family trying to escape a burning house?   

"I can't even comprehend how evil a person can be to do that."  

April has expressed her condolences for Neil's family, saying they are victims of this tragic event too and like everyone, Neil had some admirable and attractive qualities.   

"I can't thank the emergency services enough for their help, and the neighbours, the mayor for his support and the Brookwater community - the support has been so amazing.  

"We will get through this."  

For 24-hour support  phone Queensland's DVConnect on 1800 811 811 or MensLine on 1800 600 636, NSW's  Domestic Violence Line on 1800 656 463 or the  national hotline 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).


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