Young Girl Who Disappeared From Her Family’s Tent Found Inside a Locked House

A 36-year-old man who has no connection to the family was arrested.
Gavin Butler
Melbourne, AU
Cleo Smith, Young Girl Who Disappeared From Her Family’s Tent, Is Found Inside a Locked House
Cleo Smith’s disappearance triggered one of the largest, most complex police investigations in Western Australian history. Photo: AFP PHOTO / WESTERN AUSTRALIAN POLICE FORCE (left) and Vicki Smith, via Getty Images 

A 4-year-old girl who disappeared from a campsite in Western Australia last month has been found safe and well in a locked house near her family home.

Cleo Smith was sleeping in a tent with her parents at the Quobba Blowholes, a popular camping site near the coastal town of Carnarvon, on the night of Friday, Oct. 15. On Saturday morning, her parents awoke to find that she and her sleeping bag were gone. The entrance to the tent had been unzipped – beyond the reach of a 4-year-old child – and was yawning wide open. Police believe that, at some point between 1:30AM and 6AM, someone unzipped the family tent, grabbed Cleo while she was still in her sleeping bag, and fled.


What followed was one of the largest, most complex police investigations in Western Australia history. Search parties composed of hundreds of police and emergency services volunteers scoured the area surrounding the Blowholes, alongside Indigenous trackers and defence personnel equipped with military drones and heat-detecting tools. Boats, helicopters and horses were deployed to assist in the search, and the state government offered a $1 million bounty to anyone who could provide information that led to Cleo or those involved in her disappearance.

Meanwhile, Cleo’s parents desperately waited to hear what had happened to their young daughter.

“My sweet girl, come home to me,” her mother, Ellie Smith, wrote on Instagram a few days after her disappearance. Then a week later: “Every day is getting harder… She needs us and we need her… please I beg you! If you have ANYONE acting suspicious PLEASE CALL if you’ve seen her, CALL! If you have any important information CALL!”

On Wednesday morning, 18 days after she went missing, police announced that Cleo had been found. 

“In the early hours of this morning, the Western Australian Police Force rescued Cleo Smith,” said Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch in a video statement to Facebook. “Cleo is alive and well.”

A police team broke into a locked house in Carnarvon at about 1AM on Wednesday and found a young girl inside. According to Blanch, an officer picked up the girl and asked “What’s your name?”


She replied: “My name is Cleo.”

A 36-year-old man who has no connection to the family was arrested and is being questioned by detectives. A neighbour of the house said the man who lived there was “quiet,” and further recalled that he recently noticed him buying nappies from a local supermarket, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We didn’t click who… he was buying them for,” the neighbour said.

Speaking to ABC local radio in Perth on Wednesday morning, Western Australia Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said Cleo was doing “as well as we could expect in the circumstances.”

“To find a little girl, a vulnerable little girl after 18 days… obviously people think the worst. But importantly, hope was never lost,” he said. “She’s alive, well, smiling, so it is a wonderful, wonderful result.”

Cleo was reunited with her family shortly after the rescue. On Wednesday morning, her mother posted another comment to her Instagram: “Our family is whole again.”

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