Little Cleo Smith was hidden in a locked home less than 3km up the road from her family’s house while the nation was frantically searching for her.
The four-year-old girl was found alive and alone inside a room at a home on Tonkin Crescent, in Carnarvon, at about 1am on Wednesday when police rammed their way inside.
It had been 18 days since Cleo was last seen by her mother Ellie and step-dad Jake Gliddon inside their tent at the Blowholes campsite at 1.30am on October 16.
In an agonising twist, Cleo had been just seven minutes away from her mum’s home during the three-week nightmare while her family along with police and thousands of Australians searched low and high for any signs she was still alive.
A map shows the house where missing Cleo Smith was found which was less than 3km away from her family’s home in Carnavon, Western Australia
The four-year-old was found alive and alone inside a room at a home on Tonkin Crescent, in Carnarvon, at about 1am on Wednesday when police rammed their way inside
A 36-year-old man was arrested at the home and taken into custody to be questioned by detectives. He has no connection to the family.
Shocked residents had earlier spotted their ‘quiet’ neighbour buying nappies from the local Woolworths just two days before the little girl was found in her home.
The supermarket was just a five minute drive away from Cleo’s home.
‘The other day – on Monday – we saw him in Woolworths buying Kimbies [nappies] and that,’ one local told Sunrise.
‘But we didn’t click on what he was buying them for.’
Neighbours described the man who lived at the home as ‘quiet’ and said they wouldn’t expect him to be involved.
Another man said everyone in the street is familiar with each other, but they tend to keep to themselves.
‘Everyone knows the person who stays at that house, but no one would have thought it would be him,’ he said.
‘We were shocked.’
Cleo Smith has been found alive and well, 18 days after she vanished from a tent
A map shows how Cleo smith was found 73.7km south of the campsite she vanished from more than two weeks ago
Sahntayah McKenzie recalled how she heard a little girl crying one night, but did not think anything of it at the time.
‘Not last night, the night before it… I heard a little girl crying but I wouldn’t expect it to be Cleo,’ she told the West Australian.
‘I didn’t expect it would happen in this little neighbourhood, a lot of people know each other.’
Another local described the man in custody as an ‘oddball’.
‘He is a very quiet guy, bit of an oddball… definitely wouldn’t have picked him… it has completely derailed me,’ Rennee Turner told the publication.
Police officers used battering rams and crowbar to enter the house with one picking up Cleo in her arms and asking what her name was.
‘My name is Cleo,’ she responded.
Police officers used battering rams and crowbar to enter the house with one picking up Cleo in her arms and asking what her name was
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the arrest came after detectives received information that led them to the house.
He said police will not be able to provide too many details as the investigation remains ongoing, but said ‘phone data was critical’ in cracking the case open.
Commissioner Dawson reportedly broke down in tears upon hearing the news the little girl had been found.
‘I saw the vision, Cleo is a beautiful little four-year-old girl,’ he said.
‘She’s as well as we could expect in the circumstances
‘She’s alive, well, smiling, so it is a wonderful, wonderful result.’
Cleo was reunited with her relieved parents a short time after being found and is now in hospital receiving care.
Cleo was reunited with her relieved parents a short time after being found and is now in hospital receiving care
Cleo is now back in the arms of her mum Ellie and stepfather Jake (pictured together)
The footage of the moment Cleo was rescued by police was captured on bodycam footage, WA Police acting commissioner Col Blanch said.
Speaking to 6PR Radio, Mr Blanch said he’d seen the footage which is now ‘burned into my memory for life’.
‘You cannot look at that and not just feel it in your heart, it was an unbelievable moment,’ he said.
‘I saw detectives who have worked for 18 days straight, 24/7, see little Cleo in a room, and just the look on their faces. Just the care that was expressed, the cuddling, the asking of her name.
‘The little voice, she basically looked straight into the camera and said, ‘My name is Cleo’, I mean your heart breaks just hearing that because you know she’s been there for 18 days.’
Daily Mail Australia understands a local police officer rang Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith to break the incredible news.
Ms Smith said: ‘Our family is whole again.’
Cleo disappeared from her family’s tent between 1.30am and 6.30am on October 16 as her mother and step father, and baby sister Isla were sleeping nearby.
The home she was found in is just 73.7km south of the campsite she vanished from, raising the possibility the missing little girl was right under the noses of police for the entire 18 day period she was missing.
Police interviewed more than 110 people who were at the Blowholes campsite on the night Cleo arrived with her family on October 16.
Commissioner Dawson reportedly broke down in tears upon learning the heartwarming news. He said the youngster was good as can be expected
MISSING CLEO – TIMELINE OF EARLY SEARCH HOURS
About 6am: Ellie Smith wakes up and realises Cleo and her sleeping bag are missing.
6.23am: Ellie calls 000 to report her eldest daughter missing as she continues to search the camp ground.
6.30am: The first two officers are dispatched from Carnarvon police station. They travel to Blowholes as a matter of priority, with sirens and lights.
6.41am: A second police car with another two officers is sent to Blowholes, also with lights and sirens.
7.10am: The first police car arrives. The second is only minutes behind.
7.26am: Police on the scene establish a protected forensic area which is taped off to the public, surrounding the family tent where Cleo was last seen.
7.33am: A drone operator is called upon to search from the skies.
7.44am: A third police car is dispatched to the Blowholes.
8am: Family and friends of Cleo’s parents begin to arrive to help with the ground search.
Another group of detectives briefly searches Cleo’s home to make sure she’s not there. They then head to Blowholes and begin stopping cars coming into and leaving the area.
8.09am: A helicopter from a local company arrived at the scene and started searching as police request an SES team attend the Blowholes search.
8.24am: Police airwing and volunteer marine searchers are called in to assist with the search.
8.34am: Roadblocks are set up at the entrance of Blowholes as detectives gather the names, registration details and addresses of people coming and going. Police search cars.
9.25am: Nine SES personel arrive at the Blowholes to assist with the search.
9.30am: Detectives sit down with a distressed Ellie and remain by her side for the rest of the day while other search crews hunt for Cleo.
11am: Homicide detectives from the Major Crime Division are called and begin travelling from Perth to assist with the search.
1pm: More homicide detectives and search experts are flown in from Perth.
3pm: Officers and search experts arrive in Carnarvon to offer their expertise.