A tip-off from the public and tiny forensic clues led detectives to find Cleo Smith inside a suburban house just a seven-minute drive away from her family home.
Police found the four-year-old just before 1am on Wednesday after smashing their way into the locked Carnarvon home – 18 days after she went missing from the remote Blowholes campsite 73km away.
Western Australia Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the operation to find Cleo involved a task force of 100 officers and ‘thousands of pieces of evidence’.
Ultimately, the top police officer said a ‘needle in the haystack’ clue late on Tuesday night led to Cleo’s discovery and a 36-year-old man being taken into custody.
However, police are keeping close to their chest the precise details that led officers to the home.
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Cleo Smith pictured left with her mother Ellie. The four-year-old was found just before 1am on Wednesday after police smashed their way into a locked Carnarvon home
‘[Officers] have collected thousands of pieces of evidence, intelligence, data, witness statements,’ he told Sunrise on Wednesday morning.
‘That has a been a hard, hard slog.’
WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said a tip-off led officers to the Carnarvon house, ‘a lot of forensic leads’ had pointed in the same direction.
‘There was some information we followed up on,’ he told ABC Radio.
‘We had been following a lot of the forensic leads and it led us to a particular house.
‘We mounted our general duties police who did a tremendous job within minutes of arriving [at the house]… declared it a forensic scene and sealed it off which was just really, really good policing.’
During a press conference later in the day, WA Premier Mark McGowan said police analysed ‘thousands and thousands of calls’ and trawled through social media as part of their investigation.
Police officers are seen examining rubbish left near the Blowholes campsite in remote WA
Pictured: Forensic officers in full protective gear including gas masks as they searched through rubbish in an attempt to find Cleo
Investigators, have spent two-and-a-half weeks searching for missing four-year-old Cleo (pictured)
‘They put their heart and soul into it,’ he said. ‘They used their instinct and didn’t leave any stone unturned.’
‘This is great news and uplifting for the entire country.’
Mr Blanch said he saw seasoned detectives ‘break down and cry with relief’ when police asked the little girl who she was and the toddler replied: ‘My name is Cleo’.
The property where Cleo was found is just a seven minute drive away from her family home.
Mr Blanch earlier on Wednesday morning confirmed that Cleo was ‘alive and well’ and had been reunited with her relieved parents.
Following the rescue operation, Cleo’s mother, Ellie Smith, broke her silence by sharing a series of love heart emojis on Instagram and said: ‘Our family is whole again.’
WA Police have confirmed the man arrested at the property has no connection to her or her family.
A man from Carnarvon has been taken into police custody with the house cordoned off with tape, just a seven minutes from Cleo’s family home (pictured, the home where Cleo was found)
Cleo was found in her hometown of Carnarvon in Western Australia, which is 46 miles away from where she went missing on October 16
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is in Glasgow for the COP26 climate summit, said it was ‘relieving news’ that Cleo had been found well.
He 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.’
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese also posted a message on his social media and thanked police for their search.
Cleo has been reunited with her relieved parents after she missing 18 days ago
Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith (pictured during her daughter’s disappearance) has made regular public appeals for her daughter to be found
‘Such happy news. Cleo Smith has been found alive and well. To all those who tirelessly searched for this little girl, you deserve our thanks,’ he said.
And Australian MP Tanya Plibersek also joined the tributes, writing: ‘Cleo Smith is safely back in the arms of her parents. Wonderful news.
‘What this family has been through is every parents’ worst nightmare. To the WA Police, and the community who joined the search, thanks. Welcome home Cleo.’
Australian radio host Ben Fordham broke down live on air when informing listeners Cleo had been found.
Elsewhere neighbours in the street where Cleo was found described their shock that she may have been hidden at the residence for up to 18 days.
Scott Morrison – who is in the UK for a climate conference – has joined the outpouring of relief that Cleo Smith has been found alive after 18 days
Opposition leader Anthony Albanese also posted a message on his social media and thanked police for their search
Australian MP Tanya Plibersek also joined the tributes for the missing four-year-old
A neighbour told Australia’s Seven News they became suspicious after seeing the arrested man buying nappies from a supermarket.
‘The other day, like, 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 the Today show: ‘S***, she’s been that close.’
A group of men who watched the rescue operation told Nine News: ‘One of the boys shouted and said, ”oh they’ve got a little girl there, it might be Cleo”. I ran there, stood up toward the detective’s window and I saw Cleo in the back. Yeah, that’s her there!’
Neighbours described the man who lived at the house as ‘quiet’ and said they wouldn’t expect him to be involved.
Source: Daily Mail