A missing four-year-old girl has been found alive inside a locked house 18 days after vanishing from a remote campsite in Western Australia.
Cleo Smith, who was dubbed ‘Australia’s Madeline McCann’, was last seen inside her family’s tent at the vast campsite in Macleod, near Carnarvon, which lies 560miles north of Perth, at around 1.30am on October 16.
Her disappearance triggered a massive search throughout the region and saw police officers interview more than 110 people who were at the campsite on the night Cleo arrived with her family.
Today police smashed their way into a locked suburban house in Carnarvon, which lies around 46 miles away from where Cleo went missing, and found the little girl in one of the rooms at around 1am local time.
Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch confirmed that Cleo was alive and well and had been reunited with her relieved parents.
He said: ‘One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ”what’s your name?”
‘She said: ”My name is Cleo”.’
Cleo’s elated mother, Ellie Smith, today broke her silence by sharing a series of love heart emojis on Instagram and said: ‘Our family is whole again.’
A 36-year-old man from Carnarvon was arrested at the property, which is just a seven minutes drive away from the girl’s family home, and has been taken into custody for questioning.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson told ABC Radio the man has no connection to Cleo or her family.
Cleo Smith has been found alive and well, 18 days after she vanished from her family’s tent at the remote Blowholes campsite in Western Australia
Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith broke her silence sharing a series of love heart emojis on Instagram after her daughter was found alive and well
Mr Dawson said officers put ‘everything we had’ into the search.
He told ABC: ‘So obviously, our homicide squad, trained, experienced investigators and detectives, our analysts, our technical people, drone pilots, air-wing, the whole lot.
‘We mounted our general duties police who did a tremendous job within minutes of arriving, the first officers in the scene, within minutes, declared it a forensic scene and sealed it off which was just really, really good policing.
‘From that moment on, it’s just been a really dedicated team of well over 100 on the scene itself and we were prepared for a long hall but we’re so, so pleased.’
He added: ‘Having been around the block a bit, we obviously were very, very concerned so many days [had] passed. That does not mean you give up.
‘You can’t for the family, can’t for the child. I’m so pleased the team kept going, they were not going to leave any stone unturned. They didn’t and it’s just a wonderful outcome as a consequence.’
After the young girl was found alive Deputy Commissioner Blanch praised officers for their ‘incredible’ work and thanked the Western Australian community.
He said: ‘This is the outcome we all hoped and prayed for. It’s the outcome we’ve achieved because of some incredible police work.
‘I want to thank Cleo’s parents, the Western Australian community and the many volunteers.
‘And of course, I want to thank my colleagues in the Western Australia Police Force.’
Police said they would provide more details on the rescue of Cleo later on Wednesday.
‘For now – welcome home Cleo,’ Deputy Commissioner Blanch concluded.
Today, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is currently in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, said it was ‘relieving news’ that Cleo had been found well.
He tweeted: ‘What wonderful, relieving news. Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound. Our prayers answered.
‘Thank you to the many police officers involved in finding Cleo and supporting her family.’
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese also posted a message on his social media and thanked police for their search.
‘Such happy news. Cleo Smith has been found alive and well. To all those who tirelessly searched for this little girl, you deserve our thanks,’ he said.
And Australian MP Tanya Plibersek also joined the tributes, writing: ‘Cleo Smith is safely back in the arms of her parents. Wonderful news.
‘What this family has been through is every parents’ worst nightmare. To the WA Police, and the community who joined the search, thanks. Welcome home Cleo.’
Australian radio host Ben Fordham broke down live on air when informing listeners Cleo had been found.
Meanwhile neighbours in the street where Cleo was found described their shock that she may have been hidden there for up to 18 days.
Cleo was found in her hometown of Carnarvon in Western Australia, which is 46 miles away from where she went missing on October 16
Cleo has been reunited with her relieved parents after she missing 18 days ago
Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith (pictured during her daughter’s disappearance) has been regular public appeals for her daughter to be found
Scott Morrison – who is in the UK for a climate conference – has joined the outpouring of relief that Cleo Smith has been found alive after 18 days
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese also posted a message on his social media and thanked police for their search
Australian MP Tanya Plibersek also joined the tributes for the missing four-year-old
A neighbour told Australia’s Seven News they became suspicious after seeing the arrested man buying Kimbies nappies from a supermarket.
‘The other day, like, I think it was Monday, we saw him in Woolworths buying nappies but we didn’t click on who it was or what he was buying them for,’ she said. ‘Until now.’
Another neighbour told the Today show: ‘S***, she’s been that close.’
A group of men who watched the rescue operation told Nine News: ‘One of the boys shouted and said, ”oh they’ve got a little girl there, it might be Cleo”. I ran there, stood up toward the detective’s window and I saw Cleo in the back. Yeah, that’s her there!’
During their search for the missing four-year-old police interviewed more than 110 people who were at the Blowholes campsite on the night Cleo arrived with her family on October 16.
The little girl was last seen in her family’s tent, at the vast campsite on Western Australia’s northwest coast, at about 1.30am before his mother and stepfather realised she was missing five hours later.
Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said the family had stayed near their tent all evening and hadn’t socialised with other campers.
‘I think it’s more than likely an opportunistic-type event,’ he told Perth radio 6PR on Tuesday hours before Cleo was found.
‘We know they got there on the Friday night, it was getting dark, and there would have been limited opportunity for people to observe Cleo at that time.’
Police had stressed many times that the girl’s mother, Ellie Smith, and her partner, Jake Gliddon, were not suspects, nor was Cleo’s biological father.
Ms Smith had been posting daily public appeals on social media, pleading for Cleo to come home.
Cleo Smith (pictured) has miraculously been found alive after vanishing from a remote campsite in Western Australia
Cleo’s disappearance triggered a massive search throughout the region and saw police officers interview more than 110 people
And police this week collected rubbish from roadside bins stretching from Minilya, a north of Carnarvon to Geraldton – a coastal city in the mid west region of Western Australia.
It was transported to Perth, where forensic officers and recruits sorted through hundreds of bags in search of items that may have helped them find Cleo.
The State Government offered a $1 million (£540,000) reward for information leading to Cleo’s location.
Police said the Cleo’s disappearance was immediately treated with the highest priority, although it took two hours to establish a roadblock at the site.
Detectives made several visits to Cleo’s family home in Carnarvon, sought CCTV footage from a range of businesses in the area and collected samples from a campfire at the Blowholes site.
Officers also issued an extraordinary plea for dash cam and CCTV footage from within a 621-mile radius of where the preschooler vanished and were seeking footage from motel check in, service stations, fast food outlets, truck stops, free camping areas, children’s clothing stores, pharmacies and camping stores.
The selective list appeared to indicate that police were narrowing in on a suspect.
Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch confirmed that little Cleo is alive and well
Cleo was missing for 18 days before police found her alive and well in a Carnavon home
Cleo is now back in the arms of her mum Ellie and stepfather Jake (pictured together)
Police are seen during the search for Cleo Smith in Carnarvon over the past few days
Today, Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith broke her silence just hours after the four-year-old was miraculously found alive.
Ms Smith posted a screenshot to Instagram stories early confirming her daughter was found ‘alive and well’.
‘Our family is whole again,’ she wrote.
It is the first post the relieved mother-of-two has uploaded since she was reunited with the youngster after was found following an extensive 18-day search.
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.