‘There is no excuse to take a life’
A FEW days before Maria Lutz was killed while sleeping next to her 11-year-old daughter, she told a friend about her husband's drastic change in behaviour.
It could have been seen as Fernando Manrique's final desperate attempt to salvage his marriage.
But, to Sarina Marchi, a former community worker, Mr Manrique's sudden interest in being a model father rang alarm bells.
"I said: 'This doesn't sound normal'," Mrs Marchi said.
"I said: 'I know that a lot of violence happens after separation and if it doesn't feel right; if you suspect anything just get out'."
Three days after this conversation, Ms Lutz and her two children, Martin and Elisa, were killed inside their home on Sydney's north shore in an act of murder-suicide.
In a raw and emotional interview with The Sunday Telegraph leading up to the first anniversary of the murders, Mrs Lutz's friends have provided a frank insight into the case in a bid to raise awareness about domestic violence.
Contrary to some of the reports about the high-profile case, Mrs Lutz's friends said the deaths had little to do with Martin's and Elisa's disabilities.
It was about Mr Manrique's loss of control.
"It was murder out and out. There is nothing else for it," Nichole Brimble said.
Kerrie Dietz added: "Because she decided to have a different life without him.
"She made that call and asked him to go and he wasn't happy with that."
Mr Manrique, a 44-year-old successful businessman, had spent the days rigging up a crude but lethal web of pipes in the ceiling after ordering canisters of gas in late September 2016.
When police burst into the home on October 17, they found the bodies of Mr Manrique, his wife and children in separate rooms. The family dog was also dead.
Waves of grief engulfed the small community of Davidson and St Lucy's School in Wahroonga. Martin, 10, and Elisa, 11, were much-loved students at the special needs school, where Mrs Lutz, a former lawyer, spent countless hours volunteering.
To honour an idea of Mrs Lutz, the Wahroonga school will tomorrow night unveil an exhibition showcasing the talented siblings' art work.
"It has been a real vocation for me to see it through and certainly everybody at the school understands, they were known as artists," head of creative arts Alessandra Picone said.
"I hope that it would be a huge sense of pride for Maria."
Next month the pieces will be on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
It is one of many ways the school and friends of the Manrique-Lutz family are ensuring their legacies are not overshadowed by the unspeakable way in which their lives ended.
Martin and Elisa had autism, a factor Mrs Lutz's friends believe unfairly shaped discussion around the case.
"People make excuses because they don't want to confront it," Mrs Marchi said.
"But it comes down to, yes, there are all these other issues that put strain on relationships but when it comes to an act of violence, the individual has to accept some responsibility.
"The decision was his and the action that followed that decision was all his.
"He may well have been struggling or unwilling to accept the reality of his life as it was, but that is no excuse to take anybody's life."
In September, 2016, after lingering troubles with their marriage due to Mr Manrique's prolonged absences, Mrs Lutz told him to move out.
He came up with a plan to move to the Philippines, where his business was taking off. But he wanted to spend the September school holidays with the kids.
Mrs Lutz agreed. She had started cleaning out his wardrobe to ensure the separation was a smooth as possible.
But during these last couple of weeks at home, Mr Manrique set about planning his family's demise.
Mrs Lutz's friends fear they may never know for sure what Mr Manrique was thinking when he chose to fill his home with gas last October.
There was no suicide note and he burned computer hard drives, holding hundreds of family photographs.
However, they hope others have learned that family violence can happen without warning.
An inquest into the deaths will be held but a date has not yet been set.