Cleo Smith, 4, found two weeks after vanishing from family tent in remote Australia

Man in custody after early morning police raid to rescue young girl

A girl, 4, has been rescued “alive and well” on Wednesday two and a half weeks after she was suspected to have been snatched from a tent during a family camping trip on Australia’s remote west coast, police said.

Police found Cleo Smith in a house in the coastal town of Carnarvon and a man was taken into custody in an early morning raid, Western Australia Police deputy commissioner Col Blanch said.

She disappeared with her sleeping bag from her family’s tent at the Blowholes Campground, 75 kilometres north of the family home in Carnarvon, a town of 5,000 people, on October 16.

“Cleo is alive and well,” Mr 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'."

She was reunited with her mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gibbon soon after.

It is unclear whether a A$1 million (US$744,235) reward offered five days after her disappearance brought a tip-off that led police to her.

She disappeared between 1.30am and 6am on the second day of a camping trip with her parents and younger sister, Isla.

The children had been in a separate compartment of the tent from the 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.

Forensic scientists had examined the exterior of the family home for evidence that a predator had stalked Cleo and tried to break in.

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,” Mr Morrison wrote on Twitter, thanking the police officers involved in finding Cleo and supporting her family.

“Our prayers answered."

A team of 140 people had been working on the case with police fielding more than 1,000 tips from the public.

Police said the abduction appeared to have been opportunistic and they expected to file charges later in the day.

"She is physically OK. That was evident from the start," said state police homicide squad Senior Sgt Cameron Blaine, who was one of four people to rescue the child.

"Taking her to the hospital we got assurance of that from people that know what they are doing."

He said finding her was "without a doubt" the best moment of his career.

"She is a very sweet, energetic girl, very trusting and very open with us," he said.

Footage released by police showed the moment the girl was carried out of the house, her arms around a police officer.

After introducing himself, Sgt Blaine asked her: "Are you OK? We are going to take you to see your mummy and daddy, OK? Is that good?" to which she smiled and nodded.

Updated: November 3rd 2021, 12:28 PM
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