This is incredible news!
A 4-year-old has been found alive and well after she went missing 18 days ago. And, believe it or not, police found her just a seven-minute drive away from her home.
On October 16, Cleo Smith vanished from her family’s tent at Blowsholes campsite in northwestern Australia. Her disappearance has sent the country in a frenzy, with police and others desperate to find any clue to pinpoint where the little girl could have gone. The search was even expanded nationwide as cops began to fear Cleo may have been taken out of the country. Little did they know, she was right under their noses the whole time!
At 12:46 a.m. on Wednesday, Smith was found alive! Thanks to a tip with “really important information about a car,” police were able to narrow down their search, according to Deputy WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch. They confirmed the info with phone data and “a lot of forensic leads,” and described it as a “needle in a haystack.” After some surveillance of the suspect’s home on Tuesday night, cops stormed the building and found Cleo locked in a room.
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When asked what her name was by officers, she responded with a smile:
“My name is Cleo.”
She was escorted out of the house by cops and taken to the hospital for assessment. From the sounds of it, she is doing well, though will have a long road ahead of her to process the trauma. Evidence is still being collected at the home on Tonkin Crescent in Brockman, in the northern suburbs of Carnarvon, to determine exactly what happened.
At this time, authorities believe Cleo was likely locked up in the house by the time her mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon awoke at 6 a.m. to find her missing at the campsite. Neither of the parents or Cleo’s birth father were ever considered suspects, despite receiving criticism from locals. Blanch spoke about the case in a press conference, sharing:
“We’ve collected phone data, witness statements, DNA, fingerprints, rubbish along the highways, CCTV – we’ve collected everything.”
As the situation has proved, every little detail mattered in this difficult case. He was also appreciative of a $1 million ($750,000) reward that helped authorities gain more useful information, adding:
“The million dollar reward helped us with collecting even more from the members of the public. Everyone came forward to helping us. There were car movements, there were phone movements, there were antecedents of people, the jigsaw fit the puzzle. We had to find that needle. Last night the needle in the haystack came out and they acted in a heartbeat.”
Other signs are now coming to light, as well. Neighbors of the suspected kidnapper had witnessed unusual behavior from him in the last few days but didn’t connect the dots until after police had rescued the little girl. One of them told Seven News she’d spotted him buying diapers he had no use for:
“The other day, 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. Until now.”
Another neighbor, Sahntayah McKenzie, told the outlet she heard crying coming from the home, but never would have thought it was Cleo:
“Not last night, the night before it… I heard a little girl crying but I wouldn’t expect it to be Cleo. I didn’t expect it would happen in this little neighbourhood, a lot of people know each other.”
Resident Henry Dodd said police spent several hours driving up and down the neighborhood before finally breaking into the home. Many of the neighbors also described the man in question (whose identity has yet to be revealed, though he is in police custody) as “quiet” and an “oddball,” Henry adding:
“Everyone that knows the person that stays in that house, wouldn’t think that it would be him. We got a shock ourselves that it was him.”
Speaking to Australia’s the Today show, someone else said:
“S**t, she’s been that close.”
Rennee Turner mused:
“He is a very quiet guy, bit of an oddball… definitely wouldn’t have picked him… it has completely derailed me. I’d heard whispers… I kind of figured the police might have had an idea of what was going on, because I have never seen such a massive amount of cops here for so long.”
Others also witnessed the man buy foods that he didn’t usually purchase and move his dog from the backyard to the front.
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Dodd saw the remarkable moment Cleo was taken from the home as well, recalling that after the police raid, officers were seen carrying out a crowbar and a battering ram from the house. Henry continued:
“We stood back and waited but after that, we saw someone, on the detective shoulder. We thought it might be the little girl, which it was.”
“I went closer to the detective’s car and I saw her in the back of the car with the detective, he was holding her. They put her in the back and I came over, rushed over here and seen her there. She looked at me, a bit scared.”
Well, that’s to be expected. After she was just abducted by a stranger, she’ll likely be a bit wary of other people for a while. The shocked citizen continued:
“I just can’t believe it and get over the fact that she is just the house down from us and locked up here for a couple of weeks. Going on three weeks, she is straight across from us. I’ve got little sisters there…”
There is supposedly heartwarming police body camera footage of the moment Cleo was rescued by authorities. While it hasn’t been released at this time, it left a mark on all the officers who have seen it, Police Commissioner Chris Dawson described:
“I’ve seen it. It’s burned into my memory for life. You cannot look at that and not feel it in your heart. Unbelievable moment.”
On what occurred in the video, he noted:
“I saw detectives that have worked for 18 days straight, 24/7 see little Cleo in a room, and just the look on their faces. The care that was expressed immediately, the cuddling, the asking of her name, her little voice.”
Wow… As to be expected, the entire Smith family is delighted to have their daughter home. Ellie shared the good news with her followers, who have been helping to find Cleo, writing:
“Our family is whole again.”
Phew. It’s amazing to see this story have a happy ending! Hear more on this case (below)!
We will certainly be thinking of the family as they process this tough ordeal. Police are expected to share more insight with the public later in the week.