A four-year-old Australian girl abducted from her family’s camping tent 18 days ago has been found “alive and well”.
Police in Western Australia said on Wednesday that they found Cleo Smith alone in a locked house in the coastal town of Carnarvon, a short drive away from where she disappeared.
A 36-year-old local man with no connection to the family has also been taken into custody.
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.
Col Blanch, police deputy commissioner, said “Cleo is alive and well”.
“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.
Cleo disappeared with her sleeping bag on October 16, the second day of a family trip at Blowholes Campground, 75 kilometres (47 miles) north of Carnarvon, where the girl’s family lived.
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.
Her disappearance stoked concern across the nation, sparking a frantic air, sea and ground search involving 100 officers. While police used human intelligence, surveillance footage and forensic analysis to find the girl, scores of volunteers scoured nearby bushland for clues.
The moment Cleo was rescued 👏 pic.twitter.com/arusYi9kCa
— WA Police Force (@WA_Police) November 3, 2021
Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said investigators had been determined they “were not going to leave any stone unturned”, even as the search dragged on.
“We had been following a lot of the forensic leads and it led us to a particular house,” he told ABC radio. “We put everything we had at it.”
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.”
The police commissioner 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.”
It is unclear whether a 1 million Australian dollars ($743,000) reward offered five days after her disappearance led police to her.
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.