Western Australian police have released stunning footage of the moments they realised they had rescued four-year-old Cleo Smith.
Cleo’s discovery in a locked home is being hailed as a miracle after she was found alive, more than two weeks after she disappeared from her family’s tent at a remote Western Australian campsite.
Police believe a man arrested over the alleged abduction acted alone in an opportunistic act.
Cleo was found by WA police officers about 1am on Wednesday, local time, alone in a room in the house in Carnarvon, some 75 kilometres south from where she went missing.
“One of the officers picked her up in his arms and asked her ‘What’s your name?'” Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch revealed.
“She said, ‘My name is Cleo.'”
The moment Cleo was rescued 👏 pic.twitter.com/arusYi9kCa
— WA Police Force (@WA_Police) November 3, 2021
A 36-year-old Carnarvon man is in custody and is being questioned in relation to the suspected abduction, with charges expected to be laid later on Wednesday.
Police say the man has no connection to Cleo’s family and was not present at the house when Cleo was found.
He was only considered a suspect in the disappearance on Tuesday and was not on a list of 20 sex offenders that police cited earlier on in the investigation.
The girl has been reunited with her mother Ellie Smith and Ms Smith’s partner Jake Gliddon. She was taken to hospital on Wednesday to be examined but was said to be smiling and in good physical health.
“Our family is whole again,” Ms Smith posted on Instagram alongside a photo of Cleo.
Authorities are still tightlipped on the exact intelligence that led officers to the property just minutes from Cleo’s family home.
Western Australian Police Minister Paul Papalia said Cleo’s rescue was not the
Mr Blanch said the lead that led them to Cleo’s whereabouts was a combination of different elements, but the sighting of a car at the campsite on the night she went missing was a key lead.
“There were lots of things. There were car movements, there were phone movements, there were antecedents of people,” he said.
“The jigsaw fit, but it took really good intelligence analysts, detectives and specialists to look at all of that information, put it together and say ‘that doesn’t look right to me’.”
University of Newcastle criminologist Xanthe Mallett said WA detectives had learnt from other child abduction cases, describing Cleo’s discovery as a “once-in-a-lifetime miracle”.
“The feel was that Cleo would be the next William Tyrrell and next Madeleine McCann. We would never find out what happened,” she told Nine’s Today program.
The parents of Daniel Morcombe, who suffered the horror of their 13-year-old son’s 2003 abduction and murder, also paid tribute to WA investigators.
“Excellent detective work by Western Australian Police and a vigilant community,” Denise Morcombe posted on Twitter.
Mr Blanch thanked Cleo’s parents, the WA community, volunteers and his police colleagues.
“We’ll have more to say on the rescue of Cleo as the day unfolds,” he said.
“For now – welcome home Cleo.”
Investigators said on Tuesday that they had spoken to more than 110 people who were at the campsite when she went missing but were yet to track down a driver of a car seen leaving in the middle of the night.
Cleo was last seen by her mum Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon when they put her to bed inside the family tent.
Ms Smith said she woke about 6am to discover the little girl was missing.
It was later confirmed the zipper on the tent was found open to a height Cleo could not have reached, seemingly ruling out the possibility she wandered off on her own.
Her red and black sleeping bag was also missing.
WA Premier Mark McGowan said during the search, which stretched nationwide amid fears Cleo had been abducted and taken interstate, that every resource had been directed into finding the little girl.
The search for Cleo captured national attention, including in New South Wales where the state’s police commissioner on Wednesday recounted a call he had with Mr Dawson after Cleo was found.
“He said when he got the call this morning he broke down and cried,” Mick Fuller said of Mr Dawson while speaking on Sydney radio 2GB.
“It’s such an amazing story,” he said.
Mr Fuller praised WA Police for their “good old-fashioned police work”, adding he had feared the chances of finding Cleo alive were slim.
WA investigators spoke to more than 110 people who were at the campsite when Cleo went missing.
They sifted through more than a thousand calls to Crime Stoppers and trawled through vast amounts of materials for forensic clues.
The WA government had offered a $1 million reward for information to find Cleo.
Cleo’s mother earlier posted repeatedly on social media begging for the return of her child.
In a public plea last week Ms Smith spoke of the pain the family was experiencing, describing the situation as “heartbreaking”, “heart-wrenching” and “completely scary”.
Meanwhile, vigils were held in the town of Carnarvon, while shops and cars were plastered with posters and stickers calling for anybody with information about Cleo to report it.
Of the hundred police officers involved in the investigation, at least 50 were based in Carnarvon alone.