Cleo Smith disappearance: Neighbours reveal clue before youngster discovered ‘alive and well’

Four-year-old Cleo Smith has been found “alive and well” in Western Australia, with the search for the missing girl finally coming to an end after 18 days.

Detectives found Cleo in the early hours of this morning after breaking their way into a house in Carnarvon, about 70km from the campsite where the child disappeared.

A 36-year-old man from Carnarvon is now in custody and is being questioned by police, with neighbours revealing new information about the man’s movements in the lead up to Cleo being found.

“It’s my privilege to announce that in the early hours of this morning, the Western Australia Police Force rescued Cleo Smith,” Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement on Wednesday morning.

“Cleo is alive and well.

“A Police team broke their way into a locked house in Carnarvon about 1am. They found little Cleo in one of the rooms.

“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ She said – ‘My name is Cleo’.”

Cleo was reunited with her parents a short time later.

Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson told the ABC that “there is no family connection” between the man and the family.

“I can simply confirm there is a 36-year-old man in custody,” he said.

Neighbours of the “quiet man” have described seeing him buying nappies just two days before Cleo was discovered.

One man told Sunrise he saw the man in Woolworths buying Kimbies, a brand of nappies, which he thought was odd as the man doesn’t have children.

“The other day – on Monday – we saw him in Woolworths buying Kimbies and that,” he said.

“But we didn’t click on what he was buying them for.”

The neighbour said everyone on the street was familiar with each other, but said the man tended to keep to himself.

“Everyone knows the person who stays at that house, but no one would have thought it would be him.

“We were shocked.”

Cleo’s mum breaks silence after daughter found

Blanch thanked investigators, Cleo’s parents, the Western Australian community and the many volunteers who helped in the search for the missing girl.

“This is the outcome we all hoped and prayed for. It’s the outcome we’ve achieved because of some incredible police work,” he said.

Blanch said investigators would have more to say on Cleo’s rescue as the day unfolds.

“For now – Welcome home, Cleo.”

Cleo’s mum, Ellie Smith, shared a short message to Instagram this morning, writing: “Our family is whole again”.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CVyfw1fBKG1/

A post shared by Ellie Smith (@elliejaydee23)

Cleo disappeared from the family tent at the Quobba Blowholes campground, in Macleod near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s north, on October 16.

Investigators believed the girl was abducted in the early hours of the morning, after ruling out that she would have been able to wander out of the tent on her own.

Ellie Smith said her daughter woke up at 1.30am asking for water before going back to bed.

She then woke up at about 6am to find the tent unzipped and Cleo missing. The Police were called just before 6.30am.

For weeks officers have been questioning people who were at the campsite, mapping CCTV cameras, using drones to help with the search and even shifting through tonnes of rubbish for any clues to her whereabouts.

Cleo was alone when she was found

Details of the lead-up to finding Cleo have begun to come to light, withBlanch saying the intelligence that sent police to the home in Carnarvon had only recently been flagged.

“Literally this was a needle in a data haystack and our very, very good officers and investigators and analysis in that task force found that needle late last night and as a result executed that search warrant … just incredible,” he told 6PR radio.

He also revealed the 36-year-old man who is in custody wasn’t in the home when Cleo was discovered.

“When the detectives went in and rescued Cleo, she was alone at the time,” he said.

The house where Cleo was found is reportedly just minutes from her family home.

Blanch also told Sunrise that police acted on the intelligence within “a matter of hours”, which saw them enter the home at 12.46am.

“They went into that house, Cleo was in the house alone. A man is assisting us with inquiries at the moment so I’m not going to speak too much more about that given that is part of the current investigation.”

He said that it was still “very early” in the investigation.

A group of young men who witnessed the rescue operation told Nine News they saw one of the detectives carrying a young girl as they left the home.

“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,” they said.

One of the major focuses of the investigation has revolved around a report from two people who said they saw a car turn right off Blowholes Rd on to North West Coastal Highway, heading towards Carnarvon, between 3am and 3.30am on the day Cleo vanished.

The car was described as a “passenger vehicle”.

Police haven’t revealed whether the man in custody is the driver of the vehicle that officers have been searching for.

Yesterday it was revealed police had discovered multiple escape routes that avoid CCTV cameras between the campsite and the town of Carnarvon, which is about 70km away.

This means Cleo’s abductor could have left the campground without being spotted by any cameras.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the officers involved in finding Cleo, following the “wonderful, relieving” news of her discovery.

“Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound. Our prayers answered,” Morrison said in a tweet.

“Thank you to the many police officers involved in finding Cleo and supporting her family.”

Finding Cleo after 18 days ‘a miracle’, expert says

Criminologist Dr Xanthe Mallett told Sunrise on Wednesday morning that she had been “expecting the worst” due to the length of time Cleo had been missing.

The 4-year-old disappeared 18 days ago, with Mallett telling the program it is highly unusual to find an abducted child alive and well after so long.

“This is a miracle. Fantastic news for me to wake up to. I was extremely pleased to hear that.”

Mallett said the past few days indicated police were moving towards a “conclusion strategy”.

She said police would have looked into every single lead that was brought to them.

“It may be that car that was the key to solving this, it may have been something else. Obviously they have looked closely in the local community.”

Abduction likely an ‘opportunistic’ event, police say

Lead investigator into Cleo’s disappearance, Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde revealed on Tuesday that police believed the 4-year-old was likely targeted in an “opportunistic type event”.

“We know [the family] got there … on the Friday night. It was getting dark and so there would have been limited opportunity for people to observe Cleo at that time,” he told 6PR radio.

Wilde said police were examining how someone could take Cleo from the tent without attracting attention.

“That’s what we’re trying to resolve, that’s what we’re trying to understand,” he said on Tuesday.

“We’re doing a lot of work forensically … we’ve had over 1000 calls to Crime Stoppers.”

Before Cleo’s discovery, Blanch told ABC radio that the working theory was that she was likely still in WA.

He said the focus at the moment was eliminating “as many people as possible” as suspects, along with forensically going over the ground “inch by inch” for any evidence or clues.

“It could be tyre tracks, it could be the sleeping bag — it could be anything.”

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