“UNCLE Michael, Marcus just murdered Tara.”
When Nathan Costigan spoke those six words over the phone — sharing the news that his cousin Tara Costigan had been brutally murdered by her ex-partner Marcus Rappel — everything changed for the family.
Michael Costigan, the young Canberra mother’s uncle, remembers it as the moment a “crack in the universe” opened up.
“Two years ago, we could deal with family violence by changing the channel, closing the internet, or we could turn off the radio. It was an easy thing to do,” he says. “Then everything changed.”
The shift came even earlier for Nathan.
He recalled the shock he felt when he arrived at Tara’s Canberra home on the afternoon of February 28, 2015.
“I walked past Marcus in the police car. It was locked and he was screaming. And then I walked past two ambulances and the house — it was taped off — and I started to think this is maybe a little bit worse than I thought it would be,” he said.
“(Tara’s sister) Ricki was the first person I saw. She was with the ambulance driver. She turned around and I saw her hand and I went, ‘Wow, are you OK?’ Then I asked, ‘Is Tara OK?’ And I’ll never forget, she just said, ‘She’s gone.’
“I had this sensation, this feeling from the top of my head to my feet and back up and I think that’s the thing that I remember the most. Rocking up and thinking, oh no, he’s really hurt her physically … then obviously, he’d killed her, so it was the shock of it all.
“It’s all still very hard to process that it’s real life. It’s still something out of an American horror movie that doesn’t happen in real life.”
The scene that had unfolded was beyond horrific.
Rappel had arrived at the family home where Tara was nursing her week-old daughter. He was armed with an axe he bought the day before when he found out Tara had applied for a domestic violence order against him.
He used the axe to murder Tara and injure her sister Ricki in his rampage. The attack took place in front of her two older children.
THE GOOD THING TO COME FROM THE TRAGEDY
In the days after, word slowly spread of the horrific murder.
Compassion flooded in from all over Australia for Tara’s children, who had had their mother taken from them in the most horrid way imaginable, right in front of their eyes. More than $60,000 was donated in an online fundraiser for the kids in under a week.
Nathan stepped into a spokesman role for the family. Just three days on from his cousin’s murder in 2015, the Canberra public servant told news.com.au that all he wanted was for Tara to be remembered “as a beautiful soul who was always smiling and willing to help others whenever and however she could”.
Two years later, Tara’s smiling face is recognised by plenty of Australians. She’s been remembered just as the family wanted, but her legacy has gone much further.
This week, the Tara Costigan Foundation is hosting the second National Family Violence Summit in Canberra, bringing together domestic violence survivors, service providers, thought leaders and change makers to develop a road map to end domestic violence.
The foundation, founded by Nathan and Tara’s uncle Michael Costigan, is working to unite the family violence sector in Tara’s memory.
It’s also helped to unite the already-close extended Costigan family, who are now all involved in family violence prevention and education.
“It’s kind of a path that I never thought our family would take and it’s also a path that you don’t want to steer away from because we feel like we have to help,” Nathan said.
“I think I have a responsibility. I grew up with a single mother so I was very protective of women and children and naturally before Tara was killed and just thinking about families being in fear makes me ill in the stomach.
“At home, you should be comfortable. I feel like I have this underlying responsibility to help, particularly awareness in my case, that people should not live in fear.”
Last week, when Rappel was sentenced, the Costigan family came together once again in court.
Although the 32-year jail term he was served gave the family some assurances, Michael emerged from court still angry and said it didn’t bring them closure.
He said the fact that Tara’s death wasn’t prevented, and that other women were still being killed by men known to them, was a “national disgrace”.
Michael is now focusing on working to prevent further deaths through the foundation, which is this year focusing on the prevention of violence.
“There’s no closure, it’s just the next step … he’s out of the picture, I don’t think about him,” he said.
“I really wasn’t concerned about what he was going to get. I knew he was going to get a long sentence but whatever he gets it’s still not enough.”
‘I DON’T KNOW IF WE’LL EVER STOP GRIEVING’
Nathan says he still grieves his cousin privately, and though they unite publicly and support each other in court and within the foundation, behind closed doors not everyone is completely OK.
“It’s very hard for my nan especially. Today is Tara’s two-year anniversary and yesterday was Pop’s three-year anniversary,” he said.
“Pop was the patriarch of the family so I don’t think Nan being in her late 70s expected her life to be like this, without her husband of 50 years and her favourite little granddaughter. I think the family will grieve for a little bit longer. I don’t know if they’ll ever stop.”
It’s also been a struggle helping Tara’s children deal with the loss of their mother.
Nathan says the family still wants to protect Tara’s young sons, but growing up as intelligent teenagers and with access to social media, it’s been difficult to maintain the “force field” that the family put around them following their mother’s death.
“Obviously her daughter’s too young, but the boys are growing up and it’s hard to keep them away from everything,” he said.
“I think with them at their ages that they’re coming to, honesty is probably the biggest thing for them.”
If you or someone you know is impacted by domestic or family violence or sexual assault, contact support group 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732). In an emergency, call 000