It was the savage swing of an axe that ended a young mother's life in bloody horror, shattered an aghast family and forced Canberra's secret scourge of domestic violence out from behind closed doors.
Marcus Rappel's vicious attack on the woman he once loved – in her home, as she fed their week-old baby daughter, and with her two young sons metres away – was the final act of rage and power he would wield over his fearful ex-partner.
Rappel learned on Friday he would spend a minimum of 26 years behind bars for his crimes as a judge said he attacked her as punishment for taking out an interim domestic violence order against him the previous day. Her sombre family said outside court it was they who would serve a life sentence.
There was nothing about Tara Costigan's brutal slaying that didn't rock Canberra to its core, and no intimate partner murder before it that had shone so glaring a light into the dark and uncomfortable corners of the city's battle against family abuse.
Three ACT women and one man were killed allegedly due to domestic violence at the start of 2015, bringing the city to its knees and triggering loud and desperate public debate on how best to tackle the crisis. The alleged murders of Sabah Al-Mdwali, 28, Daniela D'Addario, 35, and Neal Wilkinson, 61, within weeks were a jarring reminder the pernicious social problem could be ignored no longer.
Costigan's uncle, Michael Costigan, said this week he managed anything to do with family violence with a remote control before his niece's death on February 28 that year.
"I could change the channel, I could turn the TV off, I could close the newspaper, forget Google, switch the radio off," he said.
"When Marcus swung that axe, he murdered Tara. But he completely changed the fabric of our family for the rest of our lives. On that day, our family, and his family, were all given a life sentence. Yes, it's changed our family, but it's changed Canberra."
In response to community outcry over the deaths, police flagged a significant structural overhaul with a fresh focus on family violence as ACT government promised law reforms and a funding boost to help meet overwhelming demand for crisis services.
For ACT Domestic Violence Crisis Service chief executive Mirjana Wilson, the city's painful awakening began with the announcement of anti-domestic violence campaigner Rosie Batty as Australian of the year in January 2015.
"That incident of Rosie's catapulted the issue into the mainstream and then in that short amount of time we lost four of our own community members. For services like DVCS, that shocked us into this time where we had skyrocketing demand but also we were seeing bits of Tara's story, there was a man killed by his stepson, there were children, and it was all compounded into this really short amount of time."
Wilson said Canberrans had since engaged and grappled more openly with the problem and started a broader conversation on what domestic violence was and how victims could seek help. "In that two-year period we've been on an extraordinary journey."
But she stressed there was more work to be done.
'So many women related to her'
When Tara Costigan Foundation acting chief executive Nadia Pessarossi first heard on the radio of the death of Costigan, a 28-year-old mother-of-three, she responded with disbelief. "I thought, that can't be right? I think it resonated because she was a young mum, too. So many women could relate to her."
Costigan was killed when Rappel smashed his way into her Duggan Street home wielding an axe as she breastfed their newborn daughter and her sons watched television. He chased her into the laundry before fatally striking her in the neck and shoulder and causing her to fall to the ground as she clung to their baby.
Costigan's family tried frantically to save her but she died at the scene. Rappel was arrested and charged with murder.
Amid the public grief that flowed, Costigan's relatives spoke at her funeral of a mother who put her three children before anything else and tried fiercely to protect them until the end. "Even as she faced her death, she did so in an act of defending her children and sister," the family said.
Her large, close-knit family want her remembered for the "beautiful soul" that she was, always smiling, and willing to help others.
"She was bright, bubbly, and her enthusiasm for life was infectious," the family said in a statement issued by her cousin Nathan Costigan. "She worked extremely hard to get to where she was in life. The odds were against her, but she never gave up."
The bittersweet groundswell of outrage, condemnation and community backing after Ms Costigan's murder was as swift as it was powerful. Canberrans sprung to action.
A campaign to raise money for her three children generated more than $100,000 and friends organised the first Walk for Tara, which saw more than 4000 people to walk around Lake Burley Griffin to show their support.
One of the organisers, Emma Luke, said at the time the event was for Tara, "but at the same time we're walking against domestic violence and raising awareness and support for other people. We want to use what's happened to our friend Tara. There's a lot of people who have gone through this."
The ACT's domestic violence crisis service experienced an overwhelming spike in demand for support and information after the killing as many women sought help for the first time.
The murder horrified Rosie Batty, who urged Canberrans to maintain the anger and sense of injustice they felt over the deaths of Ms Costigan, and other women, at the hands of men.
"There has to be that horror and there has to be that anger from the community that says 'Oh my god, how can it be that we now have two women a week dying?' What is it about this ambivalence we have? It's one woman in three who will experience domestic violence, it's one in four children."
In July last year, the ACT government responded to the community's calls by announcing an unprecedented $21.4 million family safety package, to be spread over four years and largely funded by a $30 annual levy on all households. It included funding for measures including a full-time family safety coordinator-general and dedicated safe families team and an integrated case management system and coordination of services for family violence victims.
The government also overhauled domestic violence laws, widening them to include emotional, psychological and financial abuse, in response to three reports urging an overhaul of fragmented and flawed domestic violence strategies to better protect victims.
ACT Policing also set up two new dedicated family violence and community safety teams in a significant restructure designed to strengthen its response to domestic abuse. The force's family violence unit reviewed 3400 cases of family violence reported to police in its first year.
The Costigan family set up the Tara Costigan Foundation in her memory to lobby governments, raise awareness and provide post-crisis domestic violence support to women through its Tara's Angels program. It's motto is "together we are strong".
The foundation will host the National Family Violence Summit in Canberra from Tuesday – the second anniversary of Costigan's death.
Long way to go
Michael Costigan said this week he expected Rappel's sentence would provide some sense of closure for his family as many still struggled with their grief and anger.
"We take it one day at a time. I can't explain, none of us can explain to anyone how we feel because we don't entirely know how we feel. It's so raw, it's so new for us every single day. Our family is as strong as we are because of the love we have for each other, but also because of the way Canberra has loved our family and embraced the whole idea of 'Together we are strong'."
He hoped to model "love and respect" to Tara Costigan's two sons and vowed he would continue to fight for better awareness of domestic violence and promote respectful relationships.
Wilson said while the ACT's action on domestic violence was heartening and there was a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities and multiple needs linked to domestic violence, there was still a long way to go. She said there needed to be better understanding that domestic violence took in a broad spectrum and included acts that weren't necessarily physical or sexual but could include stalking, isolation and financial or psychological abuse.
There also need to be more discussion about how the problem affected children and how they could best be helped, what could be done to help male perpetrators of violence, and about gender equality and its role in domestic abuse. "It's not just a victim's issue, it's a family issue and whole-of-community issue. We can't just keep mopping up the damage."
The push to raise awareness of domestic and family violence in the past two years meant more women were coming forward, and there needed to be adequate services and programs to help them. "What I worry about is if it goes off our radar and we think our job is done, we might find ourselves in a position where we get another death or two and we start all over again," she said.
She welcomed the ACT's family violence levy, dedicated domestic and family violence prevention minister and its funding commitment for services and programs over the next several years, but said the response needed to be sustained.
"It can't just be a three-year funding cycle thing. It needs to be something we build on, so we look at it and say what's worked, what hasn't? We can't fix this in three years."