Cleo Smith rescue: Fresh details emerge of critical moment Cleo was found

Fresh details have emerged of the critical moment police made the decision to break into a Western Australian home in the dead of night, which led to the discovery of missing girl Cleo Smith.

The 4-year-old disappeared from her family’s tent at the Quobba Blowholes campground near Carnarvon in the early hours of October 16.

She had been missing for 18 days when investigators received a late-night lead, which led officers to a house in Carnarvon, just minutes away from Cleo’s family home.

Investigators believed the 4-year-old was inside, though Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said officers really had no idea what waited for them on the other side of the locked door.

“They really did not know what they were going to encounter,” he said

“It was the hard work of the team that did it. Analysing all that information, gathering it and finding the needle in the haystack.”

Officers acting within a “matter of hours” of the new lead, breaking into the home at 12.46am where they found Cleo alone, physically uninjured and playing with toys.

Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch announced Cleo had been found “alive and well” on Wednesday morning.

“A police team broke their way into a locked house in Carnarvon about 1am. They found little Cleo in one of the rooms,” he said.

“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ She said – ‘My name is Cleo’.”

Cleo was reunited with her parents a short time later.

Suspect was arrested before Cleo's rescue

A 36-year-old man was also taken into custody in the early hours of Wednesday morning. He is currently being questioned by police and charges are yet to be laid.

The West Australian revealed the man was pulled over by police in a car and arrested near Carnarvon at about midnight, with officers then breaking into the home to rescue Cleo.

Officials said the man only became a suspect in the case on Tuesday.

Police have released minimal details about the man, who is believed to be a Carnarvon local, with Commissioner Dawson only revealing “there is no family connection” between him and Cleo’s family.

“I’m not going to elaborate further in terms of that man, other than to say he is a local man from Carnarvon, and we will be having something further to say later,” he said.

Yesterday, 7News captured video footage of the man in the back of an ambulance.

A photo provided to NCA NewsWire showed the man under heavy police guard with what appeared to be a bandage wrapped around his head.

Lead investigator Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde told reporters police did not have any other suspects in the case.

“It appears as though it was opportunistic,” he said.

The man has been described by neighbours as “quiet” and “lonely”, with many expressing shock following his arrest.

Neighbours claimed the man had been seen purchasing nappies despite not having a child.

Police said they were not aware of any nappy purchase when asked during a press conference on Wednesday.

One neighbour said the man’s dog was usually at the back of the house but had more recently been at the front.

Henry Dodd said he saw the moment Cleo came out of the house being held tight on a detective’s shoulder.

“She looked at me and she was a bit scared,” he told 9 News.

'Real concerns for Cleo's welfare'

Superintendent Wilde detailed the extent of the resources engaged in the 18-day-long search for Cleo during a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

“We collected a lot of data. That is what we do in these situations. It is a thorough investigation. You would have seen officers going around to every single CCTV location around Carnarvon, within 1000km. That is the level of detail you go through in these kinds of investigations,” he told reporters.

“We analyse, we find what we are looking for, and we are lucky that we found it.

“It was the hard work of the team that did it. Analysing all that information, gathering it and finding the needle in the haystack.

Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said police reacted “in a heartbeat” after extensive searches – including of critical phone data – presented their “needle in the haystack” late Tuesday night.

“We had a strategy very early on from day one to collect everything,” he said.

“We had to find that needle. Now, last night, that needle in the haystack came out and they acted in a heartbeat.

“It’s a big jigsaw, you know, everything contributed, certainly phone data helped us and that will come apparent.

“But there were lots of things, that when we put the puzzle together it all led to one place, and that’s where we found Cleo.”

He added that information received Tuesday night rapidly “snowballed” and resulted in the discovery of Cleo.

Family reacts to miracle rescue

Cleo’s mum, Ellie Smith shared a short message to Instagram on Wednesday morning after being reunited with her daughter writing: “Our family is whole again”.

Smith later revealed in a Facebook group that her daughter had seen missing posters displayed around town and thought they were “beautiful”.

She was responding to a comment suggesting the missing signs be taken down out of respect for Cleo’s family, but many argued it was a way they could display their continued support.

“Cleo has seen her photo. She thought it was beautiful,” Smith wrote in a comment.

Cleo’s biological father, Daniel Staines, also spoke out following Cleo’s rescue.

“We are all absolutely overjoyed at the good news this morning and so happy that Cleo has been reunited with her mum and dad,” the typed statement, handed to the West Australian, read.

“Thank you to everyone who helped look for her and bring her home, particularly the WA Police, SES and the Carnarvon community.”

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