“My name is Cleo.”
It was those simple words, uttered by a four-year-old in the arms of a police officer, which brought a mammoth two-and-half week search to an end this morning.
It was wonderful news, thrust upon a nation which had been largely expecting the worst ever since little Cleo vanished from a tent on her family’s campsite at the remote Carnarvon Blowholes on October 13.
READ MORE: Man in custody after Cleo found alive
Cleo was “safe and well”, Western Australia Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement.
Less than an hour later, in equally simple words, mum Ellie Smith expressed her joy in an Instagram post which read: “Our family is whole again”.
Stunned and emotional, breakfast TV news anchors and radio presenters broke the news as their audiences woke up.
LIVE UPDATES: Cleo Smith found – latest developments
On Radio 2GB, presenter Ben Fordham’s voice was wobbly, breaking in parts as he told of how Cleo had been saved by police.
“As the father of little girls, I am just so happy for their family,” Fordham said.
“I don’t know why it’s hit me so hard but it just does I suppose when it’s a little person. The good news is she is alive and she is well.”
IN PICTURES: The search for missing four-year-old Cleo Smith
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller later told Fordham how WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson had broken down in tears at the news.
“When he got the call this morning he broke down and cried. That speaks volumes,” Mr Fuller said.
“I thought the chances of finding her alive were so slim.”
Deputy Commissioner Blanche told Gareth Parker on 6PR senior detectives involved with the case had been “openly crying with relief” after Cleo was found.
“When she said, ‘my name is Cleo’, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house,” he said.
“We were literally looking for a needle in a haystack and we found it.”
On Today, presenters Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic were similarly shocked.
“This is extraordinary news,” Langdon said. “We can’t even believe we are hearing it this morning.”
When it was revealed Cleo had been reunited with her parents, Langdon also became emotional.
“Oh my goodness, for her mother Ellie, who has been at that search site every single day, hoping for the best but probably reaching a point where she was thinking it wasn’t going to end like this,” Langdon said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison took to Twitter to share his joy at hearing of Cleo’s safe return.
“What wonderful, relieving news,” Mr Morrison said, thanking the huge number of police officers involved in the intense search.
His political counterparts were also quick to express their delight at the outcome.
Paralympic gold medallist Kurt Fearnley was also moved.
West Australia Police threw all their resources into finding Cleo, including putting up a $1 million reward.
Officers and volunteers were in the air and on horseback all day, every day.
Thousands of calls were analysed with data from phone towers and CCTV combed through.
They were most recently trying to access satellite imagery to help with the investigation.
Commissioner Dawson told his NSW counterpart, Mr Fuller, “West Australian Police never gave up on Cleo”.
“He said to me … it was good old fashion police work that resulted in her being found alive,” Mr Fuller said.
CLEO SMITH FOUND: WHAT WE KNOW
- At 12.46am (AWST) overnight, police broke into a locked home in Carnarvon, Western Australia, where four-year-old Cleo Smith was found alive and well.
- A 36-year-old man was found not far from the home, and has been taken into custody. He is assisting police with inquiries.
- Police have said the man has no connection with Cleo Smith’s family.
- Investigators were acting on information received that night, but it has not been disclosed yet what led them to that address.
- Cleo has been reunited with her family.
Tonight on Channel 9 at 8.40pm Finding Cleo: A Nine News Special will have all the latest updates from a remarkable day. Watch live on Channel Nine or 9Now here