Shocked neighbours of the man who owns the house where Cleo Smith was found said they became suspicious after spotting him buying nappies on Monday, and hearing crying from inside the home.
Police teams found the four-year-old girl inside a Carnarvon home about 1am on Wednesday – 18 days after she vanished from her family’s campsite at the nearby Blowholes park.
A 36-year-old man was arrested at the home and taken into custody to be questioned by detectives. He has no connection to the family.
‘The other day – on Monday – we saw him in Woolworths buying Kimbies [nappies] and that,’ a neighbour told Sunrise.
‘But we didn’t click on what he was buying them for.’
Cleo Smith has been found alive and well, 18 days after she vanished from a tent
Sahntayah McKenzie who lives nearby said she heard the sound of crying one night, but did not connect it to the missing girl.
‘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.’
Neighbours described the man who lived at the home as ‘quiet’ and said they would not have expected him to be involved.
One man said everyone in the street – which is just a seven minute drive from Cleo’s family home – is familiar with each other but tend to keep to themselves.
‘Everyone knows the person who stays at that house, but no one would have thought it would be him,’ he said.
‘We were shocked.’
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said detectives were acting on received information which led them to the house.
He said police will not be able to provide too many details as the investigation remains ongoing, but said ‘phone data was critical’ in cracking the case open.
Cleo was reunited with her relieved parents a short time after being found and is now in hospital receiving care.
Neighbours awoke to frantic scenes as police cars and detectives packed into their street, piling into and out of the home where Cleo was recovered.
A shocked neighbour (pictured) of the man arrested after Cleo was found locked in his house has described spotting him buying nappies at Woolworths two days earlier
A map shows how Cleo smith was found 73.7km south of the campsite she vanished from more than two weeks ago
‘We stood back and waited but after that, we saw someone, on the detective’s shoulder,’ he said.
‘We thought it might be the little girl, which it was. I went closer to the detectives car and I saw her in the back of the car with the detective, he was holding her.’
Another neighbour said she received a call from her nephew at 4.30am who broke the news the little girl had been located.
‘I was very pleased, I jumped out of bed and I have been awake since,’ she told 9News.
The woman said she was shocked to walk outside to a sea of police and realise just how close the little girl was to her home.
‘The main thing is that she has been found well and alive,’ she said.
‘Well done to the Western Australia Police.’
WA Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch confirmed the great news just before 7am AEDT that little Cleo is alive and well.
‘One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ he said.
Another neighbour said she was shocked to walk outside her home and see police after failing to wake up when detectives swarmed the street at 1am to recover the missing toddler
‘She said: “My name is Cleo”.’
‘This is the outcome we all hoped and prayed for,’ Deputy Commissioner Blanch said.
‘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.’
Daily Mail Australia understands a local police officer rang Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith to break the incredible news.
Ms Smith said: ‘Our family is whole again.’
The latest on how Cleo was found:
- 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 the campsite where Cleo vanished
- 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
Cleo Smith has been found alive and well, 18 days after she vanished from her family’s tent at the remote Blowholes campsite in Western Australia
The home where Cleo was found is just a seven minute drive away from Cleo Smith’s parents home in Carnarvon
Cleo disappeared from her family’s tent between 1.30am and 6.30am on October 16 as her mother Ellie Smith, step father Jake Gliddon and baby sister Isla were sleeping nearby.
The home she was found in is just 73.7km south of the campsite she vanished from, raising the possibility the missing little girl was right under the noses of police for the entire 18 day period she was missing.
She’s alive, well, smiling, so it is a wonderful, wonderful result
Commissioner Dawson reportedly broke down in tears upon learning the heartwarming news.
He said the youngster was 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 added Cleo’s parents were emotional but doing well.
‘They’re strong people, they are really strong people,’ Commissioner Dawson said.
Commissioner Dawson reportedly broke down in tears upon learning the heartwarming news. He said the youngster was good as can be expected
‘They have good support around them.
‘It’s a wonderful result today but it’ll be a tough journey for them.’
Commissioner Dawson also revealed it was a tip-off to police that led top the raid on the house where Cleo was found.
‘There was some information we followed up on. We had been following, you know a lot of the forensic leads and it led us to a particular house,’ he said.
‘We mounted our general duties police who did a tremendous job within minutes of arriving, the first officers in the scene, within minutes, declared it a forensic scene and sealed it off which was just really, really good policing.
‘From that moment on, it’s just been a really dedicated team of well over 100 on the scene itself and we were prepared for a long haul but we’re so, so pleased.’
Comm Blanch thanked Cleo’s parents, the thousands of volunteers who have scoured the remote section of Australia for the little girl and the wider community for their support, as well as the hundreds of police who have been knocking on doors and sorting through tips to find her.
Cleo Smith (pictured) has miraculously been found alive after vanishing from a remote campsite in Western Australia
Police will provide more details on the rescue of Cleo later on Wednesday. ‘For now – welcome home Cleo,’ Deputy Commissioner Blanch concluded.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison – who is flying home from Glasgow – tweeted: ‘What wonderful, relieving news.’
‘Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound. Our prayers answered.
‘Thank you to the many police officers involved in finding Cleo and supporting her family.’
Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan added: ‘I’m beyond relieved. The nightmare is now finally over for Cleo and her family.
‘I’d like to thank the Western Australian community for all their assistance over the past few weeks, and acknowledge the WA Police who did incredible police work to bring Cleo home to her parents.’
2GB breakfast host Ben Fordham broke down live on air when informing listeners Cleo had been found.
Cleo is now back in the arms of her mum Ellie and stepfather Jake (pictured together)
Police interviewed more than 110 people who were at the Blowholes campsite on the night Cleo arrived with her family on October 16.
The little girl was last seen in her family’s tent, at the vast campsite on WA’s northwest coast, at about 1.30am before his mother and stepfather realised she was missing five hours later.
Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said the family had stayed near their tent all evening and hadn’t socialised with other campers.
‘I think it’s more than likely an opportunistic-type event,’ he told Perth radio 6PR on Tuesday hours before Cleo was found.
‘We know they got there on the Friday night, it was getting dark, and there would have been limited opportunity for people to observe Cleo at that time.’
Police had stressed many times that the girl’s mother, Ellie Smith, and her partner, Jake Gliddon, were not suspects, nor was Cleo’s biological father.
Ms Smith had been posting daily public appeals on social media, pleading for Cleo to come home.
Cleo vanished from her family’s campsite (pictured) between 1.30am and 6.30am on October 16
Police this week collected more than 50 cubic metres of rubbish from roadside bins stretching from Minilya to Geraldton.
It 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.
The State Government offered a $1 million reward for information leading to Cleo’s location.
Police said the Cleo’s disappearance was immediately treated with the highest priority, although it took two hours to establish a roadblock at the site.
Detectives made several visits to Cleo’s family home in Carnarvon, sought CCTV footage from a range of businesses in the area and collected samples from a campfire at the Blowholes site.
Officers issued an extraordinary plea for dash cam and CCTV footage from within a 1000km radius of where the preschooler vanished and were seeking footage from motel check in, service stations, fast food outlets, truck stops, free camping areas, children’s clothing stores, pharmacies and camping stores.
The selective list appeared to indicate that police were narrowing in on a suspect.
MISSING CLEO – TIMELINE OF EARLY SEARCH HOURS
About 6am: Ellie Smith wakes up and realises Cleo and her sleeping bag are missing.
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 airwing 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.
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.