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WA Police to give update on rescue of Cleo Smith



WA Police will give an update on the rescue of four-year-old Cleo Smith who was found just a few minutes from home after being missing for more than two weeks.

West Australian Police will give an update on the rescue of four-year-old Cleo Smith who was missing for more than two weeks before detectives swooped on a property just minutes from her home.

Cleo was allegedly abducted from the family tent at Quobba Blowholes in Macleod, near Carnarvon in the state’s north, on October 16.

It prompted a nationwide search before officers descended on a property in Carnarvon just a short distance from the local police station about 1am on Wednesday.

A 36-year-old man has been taken into custody and Cleo has been reunited with her parents.

Police will soon speak to the media about the incident.

More to come

Originally published as WA Police to give update on rescue of Cleo Smith




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Cleo Smith found alive: Expert says discovery a ‘miracle’



A leading criminologist has described finding Cleo Smith alive as a ‘miracle’ before weighing in on the key that may have solved the case.

Finding missing four-year-old Cleo Smith alive was a “miracle” and “highly unusual” according to a leading criminologist.

“I had been expecting the worst,” Dr Xanthe Mallett told Sunrise just hours after Cleo was found at a home in Carnarvon in Western Australia.

“It is highly unusual to find an abducted child alive and well after so long. This is a miracle.”

Cleo went missing from a remote campsite in WA 18 days ago, sparking a wide-scale search and fears she had been abducted.

WA Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch released a statement on Wednesday morning announcing the extraordinary development.

He also revealed “phone data” helped lead police to the house where Cleo was found.

“It will become apparent when we put the puzzle together … it all led us to one place,” he told the Today show.

Cleo was found when officers dramatically broke into a locked house in Carnarvon in the early hours of the morning, he said.

Dr Mallett said she wasn’t completely surprised that there was finally a conclusion to the case that had baffled detectives for almost three weeks.

“Strategically, police seemed to be clear on where they were going,” she said.

“I am just incredibly pleased it is a positive outcome.”

She was then asked about the vehicle that was spotted leaving the carpark of the campsite just hours after Cleo was last seen by her parents.

Police said it was likely she was abducted in the dead of the night since the tent zip was opened to a height she could not have reached.

A major focus of the police investigation has a mystery vehicle that was spotted by two people.

They said it turned right off Blowholes Rd onto North West Coastal Highway, heading towards Carnarvon, between 3am and 3.30am the day Cleo disappeared.

“It may be that car that was the key to solving this … it may have been something else,” Dr Mallett said.

“They have looked closely in the local community. We always felt this was something targeted. To me, it made no sense this was a random.

“They have looked very closely at those in the community, those who possibly know Cleo. There will be a link to Cleo and her family. Over the next day or so, will find more about what has happened.”

Search crews combed the coastline near the remote camping ground where Cleo went missing, but efforts proved futile.

Police also examined CCTV footage from businesses and homes that might have captured the car or anything else that might be relevant to the investigation.

They then moved search efforts to Cleo’s parents home, which they searched three times. Police said her parents were not suspects and the move was “standard practice”.

Officers searched the home for several hours before leaving with two evidence bags.

A 36-year-old man is now in custody and being questioned by police after Cleo was found at his home in Carnarvon.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said the man had no connection to the family.

Originally published as Criminologist describes finding Cleo alive a ‘miracle’ before touching on key evidence




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Cleo Smith miracle: Recovery of missing girl comes just two months after successful search for NSW boy Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak



The discovery of Cleo Smith has eerie similarities to toddler ‘AJ’, who was found four days after going missing.

Two months. Two missing children. Two successful searches.

As news of Cleo Smith’s safety reverberates across the nation, echoes of a similarly desperate – and ultimately successful – search are coming back around.

It was just 10 weeks ago that the family of three-year-old Anthony “AJ” Elfalak feared the worst after the non-verbal autistic boy went missing near his home in the NSW Hunter Valley.

But after being lost in rugged bushland for three days, a blurry image taken from a police helicopter showed him drinking muddy water at a creek on September 6.

The boy’s reunion with his family triggered a wave of emotional scenes as family members threw their hands in the air, screaming and crying from happiness and relief.

“Thank you for everyone. Thank you for the government. Thank you for the police. Thank you very much,” AJ‘s mum Kelly told Nine News at the time.

Australians were similarly united in joy after waking to the news on Wednesday that Cleo Smith had been recovered “alive and well” from a locked house in Carnarvon, having been missing for 18 days.

Detectives found Cleo in the early hours of the morning, about 70km from the campsite at the Quobba Blowholes where the four-year-old disappeared.

“A police team broke their way into a locked house in Carnarvon about 1am (Perth time). They found little Cleo in one of the rooms,” Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement.

“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, with her mother Ellie acknowledging her recovery by sharing a photo of Cleo on Instagram.

“Our family is whole again,” she wrote.

A 36-year-old Carnarvon man with no connection to the family has been taken into custody and is being questioned over the incident.

The seemingly fruitless effort to locate the missing girl involved hundreds of police officers searching vast swathes of the countryside and hundreds of kilometres of roadside bins for evidence, with thousands of calls coming in to CrimeStoppers during the nearly three-week ordeal.

Similarly, the recovery of AJ back in September involved a co-ordinated multi-agency response, with assistance from trail bike officers, police rescue, the dog unit, police divers and PolAir.

Police were assisted by NSW Ambulance, State Emergency Service, Rural Fire Service, and the Volunteer Rescue Association, while more than 100 emergency service workers and volunteers also helped with the search.

Meanwhile, 14-year-old William Callaghan was returned to his family in July last year after spending two nights lost in freezing temperatures at Mount Disappointment north of Melbourne.

The boy, who has non-verbal autism, was found by volunteers and spent a short time in hospital before being released.

Originally published as Miracle Cleo Smith news comes just two months after successful search for missing NSW boy Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak




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Cleo Smith miracle: Recovery of missing girl comes just two months after successful search for NSW boy Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak



The discovery of Cleo Smith has eerie similarities to toddler ‘AJ’ who was found four days after going missing.

Two months. Two missing children. Two successful searches.

As news of Cleo Smith’s safety reverberates across the nation, echoes of a similarly desperate – and ultimately successful – search are coming back into focus.

It was just 10 weeks ago that the family of three-year-old Anthony “AJ” Elfalak feared the worst after the non-verbal autistic boy went missing near his home in the NSW Hunter Valley.

But after being lost in rugged bushland for three days, a blurry image taken from a police helicopter showed him drinking muddy water at a creek on September 6.

His mother Kelly said she firmly believed saints, angels and the Virgin Mary played a role in keeping the boy safe.

“We’re a religious family … I always say that the Virgin Mary and all the saints and the angels are with my kids every day,” she saidafter the incident.

“The Virgin Mary is always with us and I knew she was always with AJ.

Australians were similarly thanking the heavens after waking to the news on Wednesday that Cleo Smith had been recovered “alive and well” from a locked house in Carnarvon, having been missing for 18 days.

Originally published as Miracle Cleo Smith news comes just two months after successful search for missing NSW boy Anthony ‘AJ’ Elfalak




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Missing WA girl Cleo Smith found police announce, Carnarvon man in custody



After 17 heart-wrenching days, missing girl Cleo Smith has been found alive in WA with police revealing the dramatic final moments.

Four-year-old girl Cleo Smith who went missing from country Western Australia has miraculously been found alive after 17 days of searching.

WA Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch released a statement on Wednesday morning announcing the groundbreaking development.

He revealed Cleo was found when officers dramatically broke into a locked house in Carnarvon in the early hours of the morning.

“It’s my privilege to announce that in the early hours of this morning, the Western Australia Police Force rescued Cleo Smith. Cleo is alive and well,” Mr Blanch said.

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

“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.”

A man from Carnarvon is in custody currently being questioned by detectives.

Deputy Commissioner Blanch said it was the outcome the whole nation had “hoped and prayed for”.

“I want to thank Cleo’s parents, the Western Australian community and the many volunteers,” he said.

“And of course, I want to thank my colleagues in the Western Australia Police Force.

“We’ll have more to say on the rescue of Cleo as the day unfolds. For now – Welcome home Cleo.”

More to come.

Originally published as Missing WA girl Cleo Smith found ‘alive and well’, Carnarvon man in custody




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WA: Police suspect alleged abduction of Cleo Smith was opportunistic



As the desperate search for Cleo Smith enters day 17, the lead detective on the case has revealed some new details.

Detectives believe it is “more than likely” that four-year-old Cleo Smith was abducted in an “opportunistic type event”.

Cleo disappeared from the family tent at the Quobba Blowholes campground, in Macleod near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s north, on October 16.

As the search for the young girl entered day 17 on Tuesday, lead investigator Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said it was likely Cleo was targeted in a short period.

“It’s more than likely an opportunistic type event,” he told 6PR radio.

“We know they got there … on the Friday night. It was getting dark and so there would have been limited opportunity for people to observe Cleo at that time.”

Cleo woke up at 1.30am, was given some water and went back to sleep, then her mother Ellie Smith realised she was missing about 6am.

Superintendent Wilde said police were examining how someone could take Cleo from the tent without attracting attention.

“That’s what we’re trying to resolve, that’s what were trying to understand,” he said.

“We’re doing a lot of work forensically … we’ve had over 1000 calls to Crime Stoppers.”

Superintendent Wilde said police confirmed Cleo was at the campsite via video footage on a parent’s phone that had a geolocation tag, as well as audio of her voice on CCTV at a nearby shack.

“We’ve got that CCTV but there’s also some video footage that we’ve retrieved off the parent’s phone that puts the fact that the family was there and Cleo was at the campsite,” he said.

“We’ve got some independent forensic material that corroborates that fact.”

Superintendent Wilde also said police had spoken to more than 110 people at the campsite but still wanted “less than a handful” of others to provide information.

“We still believe there may be a couple more that haven’t come forward for various reasons — they may have been camping further away,” he said.

“We are keen for those persons to come forward so we can speak to them. It may be that they witnessed something that may assist us.”

Superintendent Wilde said police were looking at all angles, including people close to the family, but again stressed Ms Smith and Cleo’s stepfather Jake Gliddon were not suspects.

“We keep an open mind with things, but certainly there’s no evidence to suggest that they are suspects or had any involvement in Cleo’s disappearance,” he said.

“We cast the net far and wide, and we look at all of those possibilities … certainly people close to the family (and) all of the people that were in the vicinity.”

He said it was a painstaking process to go through everything.

Acting Police Commissioner Col Blanch told ABC radio that the working theory was that Cleo was likely still in WA.

“We’ve tracked down people that we didn’t know, we’ve found them and we have eliminated them, and that’s our focus at the moment — eliminate as many people as possible,” he said.

Mr Blanch said the forensic work included mapping every inch of the area, using drones and satellite technology.

“Now we’re in a stage where we need to forensically go over that ground inch by inch to see what disturbances might be in nearby areas for any sort of evidence that might give an inkling as to what happened,” he said.

“It could be tyre tracks, it could be the sleeping bag — it could be anything.”

He said police were scouring through a heap of data, including phone tower evidence.

Police said on Monday that they were leaving “no stone unturned”, revealing officers had collected more than 50 cubic metres of rubbish from roadside bins as far north as Minilya and as far south as Geraldton.

A major focus of the police investigation has been centred on a mystery vehicle seen by two people turning right off Blowholes Rd onto North West Coastal Hwy, heading towards Carnarvon, between 3am and 3.30am the day Cleo disappeared.

Police have repeatedly indicated the person may not be a suspect but may have relevant information.

A $1m reward has been offered by the state government for information that solves Cleo’s disappearance.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

Originally published as Police suspect the alleged abduction of Cleo Smith was opportunistic




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WA: ‘Spy plane’ used in search for missing girl Cleo Smith



The WA police commissioner has been quizzed on suggestions a ‘spy plane’ was used during the search for missing girl Cleo Smith.

Western Australia’s police commissioner has brushed off suggestions a “spy plane” has been used in the search for suspected abduction victim Cleo Smith, as officers returned to her last known location to collect campfire ashes.

Earlier this week, the Prime Minister revealed the Australian Federal Police were using “very advanced capabilities” that were “leading edge” and it has since been reported by 7 News that it involves a reconnaissance spy plane.

WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson was asked about it during a press conference on Thursday, with a reporter querying the use of a plane almost two weeks after Cleo vanished.

“Obviously it’s a big police operation and in any such operation of this scale we reach out to police forces, not only across Australia, but indeed across the world,” Mr Dawson said.

“The AFP will, like others, assist us with whatever they can. We will accept any opportunity to expand any capability.”

Mr Dawson said he would not go into the specifics about the AFP’s particular involvement.

“We welcome any assistance from any police force around the world,” he said.

Asked again directly if it was a “spy plane or something like that”, Mr Dawson replied: “I won’t go into specifics.”

The AFP refused to comment when NCA NewsWire asked about it.

Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews on Wednesday told federal parliament that the AFP and federal agencies were supporting the work of the WA Police Force.

“Our thoughts are with the family and I can assure them that the advanced capabilities of federal law enforcement are being deployed to aid local efforts to find Cleo,” she said.

“Australians can be certain we will continue to equip our law enforcement and intelligence agencies with the tools and resources they need to combat this very serious crime, especially crimes against children.”

Late on Wednesday, police returned to the Blowholes campground in Macleod, where it is suspected Cleo was taken from the family tent on October 16, to collect ash samples from former campfires.

Officers also spent Thursday morning in Carnarvon’s light industrial area obtaining CCTV footage from businesses.

It comes after a report from two people who said they saw a car turn right off Blowholes Rd onto North West Coastal Hwy, heading towards Carnarvon, between 3am and 3.30am the day Cleo vanished.

Police have been seeking CCTV and dashcam footage from people since Cleo’s disappearance.

Lead investigator Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde landed in Carnarvon on Thursday morning.

Asked if the case could be solved, he said: “We’re really confident.”

Cleo’s mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon have vehemently denied having any involvement in the young girl’s disappearance.

“No way – we love our daughter and want her home,” Ms Smith told Seven’s Flashpoint program this week.

“There is no way that either myself or Jake could’ve done anything to hurt our daughter.

“She’s been taken from our family, from somewhere she’s meant to feel safe.”

Police have also said the couple are not suspects, nor is Cleo’s father.

Forensic officers have searched the family home three times and collected evidence in bags.

Police said the family had been helpful throughout the investigation and understood it was routine practice.

In a new Instagram post on Thursday, Ms Smith wrote: “If you know anything please call the police! We want our baby home.”

Ms Smith also posted a missing poster, promoting the state government’s $1m reward for information.

Bounty hunters have reportedly joined the search for Cleo in a bid to secure the reward, prompting a warning from police for people to stay safe.

“I think people — whether it’s for the money or whether it’s just to do the right thing and help find Cleo — people are up there trying to find what happened,” Acting Police Commissioner Col Blanch said on Wednesday.

“There’s still a lot of land up there to cover. I just ask that people don’t put themselves in any danger in doing so.”

A GoFundMe page to support the search efforts and Cleo’s family has raised more than $83,000.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

Originally published as WA Police refuse to confirm reports a federal ‘spy plane’ has been used in the search for Cleo Smith




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Cleo Smith disappearance: Bounty hunters join search for missing girl



A new group has joined the search for missing four-year-old Cleo Smith as her heartbroken mother pleads for her baby to come home.

“Bounty hunters” have joined the search for Cleo Smith in the hope of securing the $1m reward for information that brings the missing four-year-old home.

West Australian Police have said they welcome assistance from anyone who can help find Cleo, who vanished 10 days ago from her family’s tent at the Blowholes Campground on the remote coast north of Carnarvon.

After a frantic and extensive search of the water and rugged terrain around the campsite, police now believe Cleo was likely abducted while her mother Ellie Smith, stepfather Jake Gliddon and younger sister Isla were asleep.

A grief-stricken Ms Smith has said she last saw Cleo at 1.30am on Saturday, October 16 when her daughter woke to ask for a drink of water.

On Monday, she issued another heartbroken plea on social media for Cleo to come home, asking: “Where are you, baby?”

On Instagram, Ms Smith wrote “we all need her home” and described her as the “best big sister ever”.

Mr Gliddon also shared an image of the missing poster in his first post on Instagram since Cleo vanished.

Police have said the entrance to the tent nearest to where Cleo was sleeping was found unzipped at a height the young girl could not have reached.

Her sleeping bag was also reported missing.

Deputy police commissioner Col Blanch said on Monday that the official search in the vicinity of the campground had concluded.

He was asked by a reporter whether people searching for Cleo to claim the financial reward were a help or a hindrance to police.

“We do welcome anyone who can help find Cleo. I will ask that people not put themselves in danger or at risk in doing so,” Mr Blanch said.

“We would ask everyone (in the area) to check their sheds, their cars, their old cars, locations that might be abandoned — that’s something that I would encourage.”

In a significant development in the investigation, detectives revealed on Sunday that they had been tipped off about a car seen leaving the area shortly after Cleo was snatched from her family’s tent.

Mr Blanch said on Monday that officers were still trying to track that car down.

The top priority for police was for every person at the campsite on that Saturday morning to come forward to investigators, he said.

Mr Blanch said there had already been an enormous amount of public assistance to police, particularly from locals in Cleo’s hometown of Carnarvon.

“A significant amount of Crime Stoppers reports have been flooding in ever since the $1m reward has come out,” he said.

“I’d say it’s not just because of the reward — the public, particularly in Carnarvon, have really put in a monumental effort to ask for help on the investigation of the disappearance of Cleo.”

Premier Mark McGowan last week announced the WA government would offer the reward and on Monday said he was hoping for a “good outcome” in the case.

“If you’ve got her in your custody, please just give her back to her family,” he said.

Perth MP Patrick Gorman also issued a passionate appeal to the public for information in federal parliament.

“Police do not know where she is … Carnarvon is some 900km north of Perth, but Cleo could now be anywhere,” he said on Monday.

“Wherever you are in Australia, if you know anything, please come forward.”

A candlelight vigil for Cleo was held in her hometown on Sunday night, which Carnarvon Shire President Eddie Smith said was very well attended by members of the close-knit community.

“We look after our own. They’re pretty stoic but this one is hurting. Everyone’s pulling together and trying to help each other as much as possible,” he told NCA NewsWire.

“I’m quite proud of our town and the way they’ve hung in there together.

“If anybody sees or hears anything, please tell the police.”

Police previously said they had spoken to about 20 registered sex offenders who live in the Carnarvon area.

On Monday, it was revealed the missing dangerous sex offenders register — a public database of offenders whose location is unknown to police — was temporarily shut down over the weekend.

A “server error” believed to be linked to a technical issue meant the register was inaccessible on the WA government website, but it was back online by Monday afternoon.

Originally published as Surprising new group joins search for Cleo Smith as her mother asks: ‘Where are you, baby?’




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