How Cleo Smith was found
It started with an unzipped tent door and ended with police busting into a locked home in Carnarvon.
Cleo Smith has been found, alive and well, 19 days after she vanished from her family tent at a tiny campsite in remote Western Australia.
The police search for little Cleo, aged four, began on October 16, a Saturday morning.
The night before, Cleo and her family, mum Ellie, her partner Jake Gliddon and her little sister arrived at Blowholes Campsite for a weekend of camping.
But when Ellie Smith woke at 6am, Cleo was gone.
The zip was open and Cleo’s sleeping bag was also missing.
Cleo’s mum Ellie called police around 6.23am, triggering one of the biggest and most complex hunts in WA police history, involving satellites, drones, helicopters, musterers and good old fashioned police work by a team of 100 officers and detectives.
Led by Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde, police called for CCTV from a radius of 1000-kilometres away from Blowholes, fearing that an abductor had whisked Cleo away in one of Australia’s most vast and hard to police regions.
In the end, Cleo was much closer to home, found in the family’s hometown of Carnarvon, with a population of just 4400.
During the investigation, police searched Cleo’s family home on three occasions, at times leaving with bags of evidence.
Those searches prompted unfounded speculation on the family, despite WA Police insisting it was all a routine part of the investigation.
A call went out to try and find a car that had reportedly left Blowholes around 3am on the night Cleo vanished, but efforts to trace the vehicle and a driver came to nothing.
It didn’t take long for the Australian Federal Police to get involved, reportedly seeking access to images from high-resolution satellite cameras.
Mobile phone and cell mast data was trawled and analysed. Drones mapped scrubland and dirt tracks, looking for signs of disturbed earth or a trail left by a dragged sleeping bag.
Police conducted painstaking searches of mountains of rubbish hundreds of kilometres from Blowholes, desperately trying to find a clue that could lead to Cleo’s whereabouts.
Incredibly, at 1am (local time) police broke into a locked house and found a small girl in a room.
When police asked what her name was, she said: “My name is Cleo.”
A man is in custody.