Incredible footage from the body-worn camera of the detective who first located Cleo Smith alone in a locked house will leave a lasting impression on WA deputy commissioner Col Blanch.
Cleo, who had been missing for 18 days after disappearing from the family tent at the Quobba Blowholes campground in Macleod near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s north on October 16 was found “alive and well” in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Footage from the moment she was found would be etched into the memory of Blanch forever, he told 6PR.
“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. She basically looked straight in the camera and said, ‘my name is Cleo’,” he said.
The mother of missing 4-year-old girl Cleo earlier broke her silence after her daughter was rescued.
“Our family is whole again,” Ellie Smith posted on Instagram, sharing an image of a news alert about Cleo’s discovery.
It came after WA Police issued the incredible news in a statement.
“It’s my privilege to announce that in the early hours of this morning, the Western Australia Police Force rescued Cleo Smith,” Blanch said.
A post shared by Ellie Smith (@elliejaydee23)
“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. This is the outcome we all hoped and prayed for. It’s the outcome we’ve achieved because of some incredible police work. I want to thank Cleo’s parents, the Western Australian community and the many volunteers.
“And of course, I want to thank my colleagues in the Western Australia Police Force. I can confirm we have a man from Carnarvon in custody who is currently being questioned by detectives.
“We’ll have more to say on the rescue of Cleo as the day unfolds. For now – welcome home, Cleo.”
A neighbour of the home Cleo was removed from recalled the moment he realised the little girl taken by police was the missing 4-year-old.
“We had seen someone on a detective’s shoulder, we thought it might be that little girl, I went closer to the detective’s car and I saw her in the back of the car,” he told Seven.
A man believed to occupy the home was also reportedly spotted by a neighbour buying nappies at Woolworths, despite not having children.
“The other day – on Monday – we saw him in Woolworths buying Kimbies [nappies] and that. But we didn’t click on what he was buying them for,” the neighbour told Sunrise.
Perpetrator was 'opportunistic'
“Your heart breaks just hearing that because you know she’s been there for 18 days.”
It comes after police on Tuesday said it was “more than likely” Cleo’s abduction was an “opportunistic type event”.
Cleo woke up at 1.30am that night, was given some water and went back to sleep. Her mother Ellie Smith realised she was missing at about 6am.
Her sleeping bag was missing and the entrance to the tent was unzipped to a height that the young girl could not have reached to let herself out – signs she may have been abducted in the middle of the night.
“It’s more than likely an opportunistic type event,” lead investigator Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde told 6PR Radio.
“We know they 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 said police were examining how someone could have taken her from the tent without attracting attention.
“That’s what we’re trying to resolve, that’s what were trying to understand,” he said.
“We’re doing a lot of work forensically … we’ve had over 1000 calls to Crime Stoppers.”
As of Tuesday, Superintendent Wilde said police had spoken to more than 110 people at the campsite but wanted “less than a handful” of others to provide information.
Police had stressed that Smith and Cleo’s stepfather Jake Gliddon were not suspects.
Blanch told ABC Radio on Tuesday that police believed Cleo was still in WA.
The search for Cleo involved hi-tech forensics, including mapping every inch of the area using drones and satellite technology.
“We’ve tracked down people that we didn’t know, we’ve found them and we have eliminated them, and that’s our focus at the moment — eliminate as many people as possible,” he said.
Last week, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed that the Australian Federal Police were using secret technology and tactics to help find the missing girl.
“In terms of technology and tradecraft, the AFP have some very advanced capabilities, leading-edge, not just here in Australia but all around the world,” he told 6PR Radio.
“As much as I’d love to reveal exactly what some of those are, and how they’re being used, we certainly can’t talk about that on air.
“But the AFP are there, they’ve joined that process. I’m very pleased to say that they’re helping in every way they possibly can, through their intelligence capabilities, their technology and their forensics abilities.”
It was reported by 7 News that it involved a reconnaissance spy plane.
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