Girl, 4, rescued after 2 weeks; man arrested
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A 4-year-old girl was rescued safely and a man was arrested Wednesday more than two weeks after she was suspected to have been snatched from her family’s camping tent on Australia’s west coast, police said.
Police found Cleo Smith in a house in the coastal town of Carnarvon and a 36-year-old local man was taken into custody in an early morning raid, police said.
The girl was reunited with her mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon soon after her rescue. “Our family is whole again,” the mother said on social media.
“Cleo is alive and well,” Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said.
“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her: ‘What’s your name?’ She said: ‘My name is Cleo,’” Blanch added.
It is unclear whether a 1 million Australian dollar ($743,000) reward offered five days after her disappearance led police to her.
Cleo’s family lives in Carnarvon, a community of 5,000 people, and forensic scientists had examined the exterior of their home for evidence that a predator had stalked Cleo and attempted to break in.
The girl disappeared with her sleeping bag on the second day of a family trip at Blowholes Campground, 75 kilometers (47 miles) north of Carnarvon on Oct. 16.
Cleo and her younger sister had been in a compartment of the tent separate from their parents. Police suspected she had been abducted because a zipper on a tent flap had been raised to a height that she could not have reached.
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said body camera video of four police officers breaking into the house with a search warrant and finding the girl brought a tear to his eye.
“It’s a really joyous occasion. We don’t always get these sort of outcomes and while we were very, very concerned, we didn’t lose hope,” Dawson told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
Dawson would not detail what the girl had gone through.
She was “as well as you can expect,” Dawson said. “This has been an ordeal. I won’t go into any more details, other than to say we’re so thankful she’s alive.”
Dawson said “dogged, methodical police work” led to her being found.
The disappearance had captivated the nation.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison thanked police for finding Cleo and supporting her family.
“What wonderful, relieving news. Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound,” Morrison tweeted.
“Our prayers answered,” Morrison added.
Rod Mcguirk, The Associated Press