Police admit there is evidence to suggest four-year-old Cleo Smith was taken from her West Australian campsite but insist they haven’t given up hope of finding her alive.
Authorities have confirmed the family’s tent was found open at a height Cleo could not have reached when she disappeared from the popular Blowholes site, on WA’s north-west coast, in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Her red and black sleeping bag is also missing.
Homicide detectives are assisting local police and investigators have spoken to up to 20 registered sex offenders in the Carnarvon area.
Inspector Jon Munday provides an update on the search for missing four-year-old Cleo.
— WA Police Force (@WA_Police) October 20, 2021
Detectives are also re-examining nearby shacks along the coastline as the search for the girl approaches its sixth day.
No witnesses have reported having seen Cleo at the heavily populated campsite, but police are comfortable based on “technological evidence” that she was there with her parents and younger sister from the Friday night.
“The account given to us by Cleo’s parents, there is nothing to indicate to us that that account is anything but accurate and truthful,” Inspector Jon Munday told reporters on Wednesday, adding that there were currently no suspects.
“We do have things placing Cleo here at the campsite.
“When we are satisfied from a land search point of view … that Cleo is not here, certainly it becomes more possible that that nightmare scenario (she was abducted) is the one that we have to face.
“There’s circumstances around her disappearance that make it very concerning and it’s things like the fact that the (tent) zipper was allegedly up so high, the sleeping bag is missing.
“Time is of the essence. We just need to keep going as hard as we can for as long as we can.”
Inspector Munday said the family were Carnarvon locals and he understood they had set up their tent “in the same vicinity as people they knew”.
He said police had gathered a large amount of intelligence from other campers, some of whom had reported hearing screeching tyres early on Saturday.
But it was possible some campers could have left prior to roadblocks being put in place several hours after Cleo was reported missing.
“Potentially there are people out there who were at the campsite or in the vicinity that we don’t know about,” he said.
“We are hopeful that Cleo is still alive and we’re operating on the premise that she is still alive, so we’re going to keep searching until we find her.”
Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith has made a desperate public appeal for information, saying the little girl would never wander off on her own and someone must know where she is.
She said she and her partner Jake Gliddon had last seen Cleo about 1.30am on Saturday in the family’s tent. They woke about 6am, when Cleo’s baby sister Isla wanted a bottle, to discover Cleo was gone and the tent was “completely open”.
“She would never leave us. She would never leave the tent,” said Ms Smith, describing Cleo as a beautiful and delicate girl with “the biggest heart”.
“We sit and watch the sand dunes and we just think she’s going to run down it and back into our arms, but we’re still waiting.”
Inspector Munday said the tent had been thoroughly examined by forensic investigators.
Mounted police have been deployed to join a search that includes SES volunteers, a helicopter and drones.
Detectives have also spoken to Cleo’s biological father in Mandurah, south of Perth, as part of their investigations.
There is no suggestion he was involved in the girl’s disappearance.