This is the incredible moment four-year-old Cleo Smith was rescued from a stranger’s house in Western Australia, 18 days after going missing from a remote campsite where she was staying with her family.
Cleo, dubbed ‘Australia’s Madeleine McCann’, was discovered by detectives around 1am Wednesday alone inside the bedroom of a rundown and locked house in Carnarvon – a rural town 47 miles from the campsite where she vanished on October 16, and just two miles from her family home.
In the footage, police can be seen carrying the tired-eyed girl into the garden of the house before a detective asks whether she is OK. When Cleo smiles and nods, he tells her: ‘We’re going to take you to see your mummy and daddy, OK?’
The tender moment brings to an end a desperate investigation that began when Ellie Smith – Cleo’s mother – reported her missing from a tent the family was sharing on the Blowholes Campsite, and which had been overshadowed from day one by fears of a tragic ending for the little girl.
But Cleo is now safe and recovering in the company of her parents – having been pictured smiling from a hospital bed while eating an ice lolly, waving to the camera as her mother’s hand rests on her leg. Rod Wilde, the detective who led the investigation, said Cleo is ‘physically OK’ after being checked by doctors.
Meanwhile police have arrested a 36-year-old man, who they have not yet named or charged, in connection with her disappearance. The man was pictured being taken to hospital with a bandage around his head in the early hours, after apparently being beaten by other inmates when taken into custody.
Neighbours described his as ‘a loner’ who had been behaving ‘weirdly’ in recent days, including one who recalled seeing him buying nappies in a nearby supermarket despite not having children.
Detectives say the man was not at the house when Cleo was found, but was arrested a ‘short’ distance away. He is not known to Cleo’s family and is not a registered sex offender, detective Wilde added, but said he is ‘known to police’ for other issues, without elaborating. ‘I have to be very careful about that,’ he said.
Cleo was first reported missing at 6.23am on October 16 by Ellie, who said she had last seen her daughter asleep next to her in the family’s tent at 1.30am but awoke to find her gone. The tent zipper was undone, and the sleeping bag that Cleo was using had also disappeared.
Police quickly launched a search and rescue operation, using helicopters, drones, dogs and officers to scour the sparse countryside around the campsite and nearby coastline amid fears Cleo had wandered off. But after no sign of her was uncovered, police quickly pivoted to the theory that she had been taken.
Officers trawled through hours of CCTV footage, combed satellite images, interviewed other campers and even dug through rubbish heaps for any sign of the missing girl before a ‘tip off’ led them to the Carnarvon house.
This is the moment that four-year-old Cleo Smith was found alive by detectives inside a locked house in the town of Canarvon, Western Australia, 18 days after going missing while on a family camping trip
Detective Sergeant Cameron Blaine (left) can be heard asking the girl whether she is OK. When she smiles and nods, he tells her: ‘We’re gonna take you to see your mummy and daddy, OK?’
Cleo was pictured smiling and waving for the camera from a hospital bed while eating an ice lolly as mother Ellie Smith’s hand rested on her leg (bottom right) in the first image of her since she went missing on October 16
A 36-year-old man has been arrested in connection with Cleo’s disappearance. He has not yet been named, but was pictured being taken to hospital with a bandaged head after apparently being beaten by other inmates in police custody
Cleo was found inside the bedroom of this locked property in the north of the town of Carnarvon at 1am Wednesday after a ‘tip off’ to police. Officers said the arrested man was not at home when the raid took place
Police have not yet outlined how or why they believe Cleo was taken from the campsite, or how she came to be inside the locked house, just a two minute drive from their own headquarters.
Investigators have also not disclosed exactly what led them to the house, saying only that a report of a car in the area was crucial to tracking the girl down.
Officers had previously spoken of trying to trace a car seen leaving the Blowholes campsite around 3am the day Cleo vanished.
Detective Blaine, who has been working the case since Cleo vanished, said the first thing he did upon finding the little girl was to ask her for her name. After three attempts she finally replied: ‘My name is Cleo.’
Once he realised they had found the missing girl, Blaine said detectives were ‘openly crying with relief’ before calling Cleo’s parents to tell them the good news.
‘We’ve got someone here that wants to speak to you,’ Blaine recalled telling Ellie as he put Cleo on the phone, before adding: ‘Please start making your way to the hospital, we’ll meet you there.’
The family were then reunited as doctors gave Cleo a check-up, with Blaine saying the little girl shouted ‘mummy’ before the pair shared a hug and kisses.
‘It was really an honour to be able to witness that reunion,’ he said. Asked whether that moment counts as the highlight of his career, he added: ‘Without a doubt.’
Mother Ellie then took to social media to express her relief, posting a picture of her daughter with the caption underneath: ‘Our family is whole again.’
Speaking about the moment Cleo was found, Blaine said: ‘It was a shock to start with, quickly followed by elation. That could have been any one of the team, but it turned out I was one of four guys that were fortunate enough to go through that door and make that rescue.
‘We had always hoped for that outcome, but were not prepared for it. It was absolutely fantastic to see her sitting there in the way that she was. It was incredible.’
‘I wanted to be sure it was her. I said, “What is your name?” She didn’t answer, I asked three times, and then she looked at me and said, “My name is Cleo.”
‘And that was it. Then we turned around and walked out of the house. Not long after that we got into the car and the officer called Cleo’s parents. It was a wonderful feeling to make that call.’
Police used battering rams and crowbars to break their way into the Carnarvon house, located on the outskirts of town in a suburb called Brockman, with neighbours telling Daily Mail Australia they were first alerted to the commotion when flood lights lit up their cul-de-sac in the middle of Tuesday night.
‘My nephews went up to see what was going on and then they saw cops leading out the little white girl,’ a neighbour said.
He added that he has known the owner of the property for more than a decade, describing him as ‘a loner’ who ‘kept to himself’ and was not the type to stop and talk to others who lived on the street.
He last saw the man just three days after Cleo disappeared. ‘His grandmother raised him… but after she died a year or so ago, nobody went over to [speak] to him,’ the man said.
‘He got a new car after… he used to park it in the driveway and then close the gate, every day, always went and put the car in the same spot and closed the gate.’
Former friends added that the man had not long been released from jail, though did not say what he was in prison for. Police said only that he was ‘known’ to them and was not a registered sex offender.
While a handful of people witnessed the moment Cleo was rescued, others in Carnarvon woke to the news that she was safe – with the streets of the usually-quiet town, population 4,500, filled with pink balloons and ‘welcome back’ signs.
Cleo Smith was reported missing from Blowholes Campsite on the west coast of Australia at 6.23am on October 16 by mother Ellie who said she awoke to find her daughter gone. Police found the girl 18 days later inside the bedroom of a locked home in Carnarvon, 47 miles from the campsite and two miles from her parents’ house
Cleo had been sleeping in a tent alongside mother Ellie at a campsite the family often visited on the Western Australia coast when she vanished along with her sleeping bag some time in the early hours of October 16
Superintendent Wilde said Cleo was in good spirits and communicating well with officers after being found, though added that there are more interviews to do in coming days.
‘Having seen her a couple times this morning, she is a little Energiser bunny. How she has that much energy, I wish I did, I am about ready to go to sleep,’ he said.
‘Very sweet, energetic girl. Very trusting and very open with us. We all wanted to take turns holding her. It was a really good experience.’
Police said the man arrested only became a suspect in the case on Tuesday, the same day that Wilde revealed officers were trawling the ‘Dark Web’ for images of the girl.
Hours before Cleo was found, Wilde also said he believes her disappearance was an ‘opportunistic’ kidnapping by someone who had only been aware of Cleo for a ‘short time’. Police have not yet elaborated on whether any of that information turned out to be accurate.
The early-hours raid came after officers received a tip-off Tuesday night with ‘really important information about a car’, which they confirmed with phone data and ‘a lot of forensic leads’.
Neighbours interviewed after the raid also recalled other signs that a child was being kept at the property, but said they only realised the connection to Cleo in hindsight.
Sahntayah McKenzie recalled hearing a little girl crying one night, but did not think anything of it at the time.
‘Not last night, the night before it… I heard a little girl crying but I wouldn’t expect it to be Cleo,’ she told the West Australian. ‘I didn’t expect it would happen in this little neighbourhood, a lot of people know each other.’
It’s reported that police were tipped off to the address after neighbours spotted the suspect buying nappies.
One of them told Seven News she became suspicious after seeing the suspect buying Kimbies nappies from a supermarket.
‘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,’ she said. ‘Until now.’
Another neighbour told Nine he had spotted the arrested man behaving bizarrely in recent days, driving at speed through the streets with his dogs in the front seat of his car.
‘He’s been acting a bit strange lately,’ Henry Dodd told Nine News. ‘He will get in his car, drive that fast.
‘He doesn’t have his dogs at the front [normally], he has his dogs out the back, but through this week he had his dogs out the front and he has been acting weird.’
Henry Dodd said police spent several hours driving up and down the street before breaking into the home.
Neighbours described the man as ‘quiet’ and said they wouldn’t expect him to be involved.
Sahntayah McKenzie recalled how she heard a little girl crying one night, but did not think anything of it at the time
One neighbour Henry (pictured) said he had spotted the arrested man behaving unusually in recent days, hooning through the streets in his car with his dogs in the front seat
‘Everyone that knows the person that stays in that house, wouldn’t think that it would be him,’ he said. ‘We got a shock ourselves that it was him.’
Another neighbour told the Today show: ‘S**t, she’s been that close.’
Another local described the man in custody as an ‘oddball’.
‘He is a very quiet guy, bit of an oddball… definitely wouldn’t have picked him… it has completely derailed me,’ Rennee Turner said.
‘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 said he in recent weeks bought food he didn’t usually buy, and that he moved his dog that usually stayed in the backyard to the front yard.
Latest on Cleo Smith found alive after 18 days
- A 36-year-old man with no connection to the familyis in police custody
- Neighbours said the ‘quiet man’ was seen buying nappies at Woolworths
- Cleo found alone inside the house when police broke down the door at 1am
- Police were acting on a tip-off that led them to the housing commission home
- The home is just seven minutes’ drive from Cleo’s family home
- Cleo was smiling when she was rescued, the police commissioner confirmed
- She is now in hospital for an assessment after being reunited with her family
Neighbours who witnessed the dramatic police raid, after which officers were seen carrying a crow bar and a battering ram out of the house, described how Cleo was carried to safety.
‘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,’ Henry Dodd told Seven News.
‘I went closer to the detectives 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.’
Mr Dodd said he was shocked he had been just metres away from her while the nationwide hunt was going on.
‘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,’ he added.
‘Going on three weeks, she is straight across from us. I’ve got little sisters there…’
Deputy WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said Tuesday night’s tip was the final piece of the puzzle that allowed detectives to finally track down Cleo.
‘We’ve collected phone data, witness statements, DNA, fingerprints, rubbish along the highways, CCTV – we’ve collected everything,’ he said.
‘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.’
The vital tip-off was the last piece of the puzzle in a case that until then frustrated and eluded detectives and had Australians fearing Cleo would never be found, let alone alive.
Police said Cleo was smiling when she was rescued at the house, with the moment captured on police bodycam footage that brought a tear to his eye.
‘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,’ he said.
‘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.’
Cleo is now back in the arms of her mum Ellie and stepfather Jake (pictured together)
Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith broke her silence on Wednesday morning, sharing a series of love heart emojis on Instagram after her daughter was found alive and well
A close family friend revealed the emotional message Ms Smith earlier wrote to her loved ones to let them know her ‘beautiful girl is home’.
‘To be woken at 4.50am with my phone going crazy and see the words Cleo is home alive and safe,’ she wrote on Facebook.
‘Seeing Ellie saying her ‘beautiful girl is home’ is nothing short of a miracle.’
In a local Facebook group, a concerned local suggested people in the small town remove ‘missing’ posters and stickers to prevent the family from suffering any more trauma.
But the youngster’s mother Ellie Smith commented on the post to let people know it was unnecessary.
‘Cleo has seen her photo. She thought it was beautiful,’ Ms Smith wrote.
She’s alive, well, smiling, so it is a wonderful, wonderful result
Cleo’s biological father Daniel Staines, who lives with his parents about 1,000km south of Carnarvon in Halls Head, said he is ‘overjoyed’ that the little girl was found alive.
‘We are all absolutely overjoyed at the good news this morning and so happy that Cleo has been reunited with her mum and dad,’ the Staines family said in a statement to The West Australian.
‘Thank you to everyone who helped look for her and bring her home, particularly the WA Police, SES and the Carnarvon community.’ They sent Cleo, her step-father Jake and Ellie their ‘best wishes’.
What happened to Cleo in the house where she was held captive for more than two weeks, without her family, is not yet clear – but psychologists said she will have a long road to recovery.
Police Air Wing PC12 picked up the suspect, who has no relation to Cleo’s family, from Carnarvon and landed at Perth’s Jandakot Airport late on Wednesday morning.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson was on board the plane and will spend the day meeting with police involved in the rescue and checking in with Cleo’s family.
The police chief broke down in tears upon learning the heartwarming news. He said Cleo was as good as can be expected.
‘I saw the vision, Cleo is a beautiful little four-year-old girl,’ he said. ‘She’s as well as we could expect in the circumstances. She’s alive, well, smiling, so it is a wonderful, wonderful result.’
He said Cleo’s parents were emotional but doing well. ‘They’re strong people, they are really strong people. They have good support around them,’ Commissioner Dawson said.
‘It’s a wonderful result today but it’ll be a tough journey for them.’
CLEO DISAPPEARANCE TIMELINE
By Olivia Day for Daily Mail Australia
Friday, October 15
Cleo along with her mother Ellie Smith, her partner Jake Gliddon and her little sister Isla Mae arrive at the Blowholes campsite around 6:30pm.
They had a ‘quiet’ night and arrived at sunset.
Saturday, October 16
1:30am: Parents’ last sighting of Cleo in the tent she shared with her parents and baby sister when the four-year-old asks for some water.
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 air-wing 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.
Investigators, bounty hunters and officers from the Australian Federal Police have spent two-and-a-half weeks searching for missing four-year-old Cleo (pictured)
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.
Sunday, October 17
Ms Smith takes to social media to plead for help finding her missing daughter.
A Facebook post uploaded at 1:45am on Sunday which said: ‘It’s been over 24 hours since I last seen the sparkle in my little girl’s eyes.
‘Please help me find her!
‘If you hear or see anything at all please call the police!’
Police suggest Cleo may have been abducted.
Monday, October 18
Police release an image of the red and grey sleeping bag missing from Cleo’s tent.
Cleo’s biological father is interviewed by police in Mandurah and is asked to provide a statement, which he does so willingly.
WA Police with the help of SES members, volunteers and aircraft continue the land hunt for Cleo, with officers searching nearby shacks and vehicles in the area.
Tuesday, October 19
Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon front the media for the first time and describe the terrifying moment they realised the little girl was missing.
Ms Smith says her four-year-old would never have left the tent by herself.
Police release new images of Cleo and the pink and blue one-piece she was wearing the night she went missing to aid the investigation.
Investigators urge anyone who was at the campsite or in the vicinity on October 15 to get in contact with police.
Wednesday, October 20
Police reveal the zip of the family tent, which was found hanging wide open by her mother at 6am on Saturday morning, was too high for Cleo to reach.
Officers say they ‘haven’t ruled out’ reports from campers who heard the sound of screeching tyres in the early hours of Saturday morning.
Deputy Police Commissioner Daryl Gaunt confirms officers are investigating the whereabouts of 20 registered sex offenders in the Carnarvon area.
Thursday, October 21
The WA Government offers a $1million reward for information that leads to Cleo’s location announced by WA Premier Mark McGowan.
‘All Western Australians’ thoughts are with Cleo’s family during what is an unimaginably difficult time,’ Mr McGowan said.
‘We’re all praying for a positive outcome.’
The speed of the reward being issued – within days of her disappearance – was unprecedented.
Pictured: Police are seen examining rubbish left near the Blowholes campsite in remote WA
Monday, October 25
WA Police confirm Cleo was definitely at the camp site – on CCTV footage on a camera installed inside a beach shack just 20 metres from the family tent she disappeared from.
Tuesday, October 26
Forensic officers and detectives spent much of the day at her home in Carnarvon, 900km north of Perth, on Tuesday and left with two bags of evidence.
Although investigators had been to the home before, this was the first time they thoroughly searched inside with a forensics team.
Acting WA Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the search of the family home was ‘standard practice’ and did not indicate they were suspects in Cleo’s disappearance.
Wednesday, October 27
WA Police forensics officers return to the Blowholes campground and are seen collecting soil samples from a number of campfires near shacks in the area.
The federal government announce Australian Federal Police officers had been drafted in to support forensic and intelligence efforts.
Friday, October 29
Police return to the Blowholes camp to analyse the area with drones.
Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde returns to the Blowholes campsite to join the search for Cleo as the search hit the two-week mark.
He confirms national and international agencies are engaged in the search for Cleo.
Sunday, October 31
Detectives go door-knocking at a number of homes along the North West Coastal Highway in the North Plantations, 5km from Cleo’s hometown on Sunday.
Monday, November 1
Detectives sort through mounds of rubbish from roadside bins located hundreds of kilometres away from the campsite she vanished from.
The material 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.
Officers issue a plea for dash cam and CCTV footage from within a 1000km radius of where the four-year-old disappeared.
Police renew an appeal for more businesses in Carnarvon to provide footage and go door to door in an industrial area on the outskirts of the town.
Her elated mother, Ellie, (pictured, with Cleo, her partner and younger daughter) broke her silence the morning Cleo was found, sharing a series of love heart emojis on Instagram
Wednesday, November 3
After two-and-a-half weeks of searching Cleo Smith is found alive and well in the early hours of November 3.
WA Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch confirmed just before 7am AEST that little Cleo is alive and well and had been reunited with her relieved parents.
‘One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ he said. ‘She said: ‘My name is Cleo’.’
Ellie Smith posted to social media: ‘Our family is whole again’.
A Carnarvon man is currently in custody and being questioned by detectives.
On October 19, Ellie Smith (pictured) and her partner Jake Gliddon fronted the media for the first time and begged the public to report any information ‘big or small’