A four-year-old girl,Cleo Smith missing for 18 days in a remote part of Western Australia has been found alive and well in a locked house.
Cleo disappeared from her family’s tent at a campsite near the town of Carnarvon on 16 October, triggering a massive search. A 36-year-old man is in custody and being questioned by detectives.
Police smashed their way into a home in Carnarvon in the early hours of Wednesday, following forensic clues. According to Deputy Police Commissioner, Col Blanch “they found little Cleo in one of the rooms,”.
“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her, ‘What’s your name?’ She said ‘My name is Cleo’.” The girl has been reunited with her parents, who had made desperate pleas for her return.
“Our family is whole again,” her mother, Ellie Smith, wrote said. Police footage of Cleo’s rescue showed her “smiling” and “as well as we could expect in the circumstances”, said Commissioner Chris Dawson. Authorities say the man in custody has no connection to the Smith family. No charges have been laid.
The house where Cleo was found is about six minutes’ drive from her family home in Carnarvon, which has about 5,000 residents.
Australian PM Scott Morrison said it was “wonderful, relieving news”. Cleo had been sleeping on an air mattress next to her younger sister’s cot. When her mother, who had been sleeping in the second room of the tent, got up in the morning, Cleo was gone and the tent door was open.
Police said this raised fears of an abduction. Ms Smith was adamant Cleo could not have left the tent on her own. A taskforce of 100 officers were sent in from the state capital, Perth, to join a massive air, land and sea search. Reconnaissance planes were used to comb sparsely populated areas.
News that Cleo has been found sparked a sense of huge relief.For 18 days we’ve been filled with anxiety and concern,” Carnarvon Shire president Eddie Smith said.
Deputy Commissioner Blanch said that it had been “incredible to see seasoned detectives openly crying with relief”. Police said they did not expect the reward to be claimed.