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Daily Mirror
Kelly-Ann Mills

Cleo Smith: All we know about chilling child abduction case of girl missing for 18 days

Child disappearances are agonising experiences for the parents and can be just as worrying for families who fear for the safety of their own kids.

Little Cleo Smith was one such case that captured the public's attention she went missing for 18 days in Australia last year.

She was eventually found in the home of 36-year-old Terrence Kelly who has today pleaded guilty to her abduction.

Here's all we know about the case:

Who is Cleo Smith?

Cleo Grace Smith is a four-year-old girl who lives in Carnarvon, Western Australia with her mum Ellie Smith and her stepfather Jake Gliddon.

She is big sister to their child Isla Mae who was born in March 2021. Cleo's biological father is Daniel Staines.

She loves to paint and her mum would often share photos and videos of her painting on Instagram.

On October 15, along with her mum, stepdad and little sister, the family of four travelled about 30 miles from home to the Blowholes campsite on October 15.

It was their first camping trip and the little girl went to bed, wearing her pink pyjamas, at about 8pm and was tucked up in her red sleeping bag.

She was aged 4 when she vanished (ENTERPRISE NEWS AND PICTURES)

When did Cleo disappear?

At around 1.30am on October 16, Cleo woke up and asked her mum for a drink of water before she went back to sleep.

Her mum Ellie woke again at around 6am with baby Isla and realised Cleo was gone.

"I went into the other room and the zipper was open. Cleo was gone and that was about it for Saturday morning until everything started.”

Along with husband Jake, he and Ellie searched the campsite and got in the car and started “driving around everywhere” before realising that they had to call the police.

Cleo with mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon in 2019 (Facebook)

The distraught mum said she has not been able to sleep since and that the family feels “hopeless and out of control”.

Ellie's mum told the media: "Where is she, she needs breakfast, what is she doing?

"Everything's going through my head. Everyone asks us what we need and all we need is our little girl home.

"She's beautiful, so sweet, she's everything you'd want in a little girl to grow up."

The search for Cleo

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

The conditions with remote terrain meant it was difficult to search the area with some people using quad bikes and even a drone.

More than 100 people at the site were interviewed, and police carried out extensive searches by land and air.

"Police arrived at 7.10am and by 7.26am set up a protected site," revealed Det Superintendent Rob Wilde.

By 11am homicide detectives were at the scene and police were searching cars at the campsite.

Det Supt Wilde said that police had previously responded to around 200 possible sightings of Cleo around the country but none turned out to be her.

Officers were seen trawling through bins in the area in the hope of finding discarded clues in the days after she vanished.

How was Cleo found?

A man, who neighbours knew did not have a child, was seen buying nappies and they heard a child crying at his address.

One neighbour told Sunrise in Australia: "The other day - on Monday - we saw him in Woolworths buying Kimbies [nappies] and that. But we didn't click on what he was buying them for."

Sahntayah McKenzie who also lives nearby said she heard crying one night, but didn't link it to the then-missing girl.

She told The West Australian: "Not last night, the night before it… I heard a little girl crying but I wouldn't expect it to be Cleo.

"I didn't expect it would happen in this little neighbourhood, a lot of people know each other."

Police carried out a raid 18 days after she went missing and found the tot who told police "My name is Cleo."

She told cops my name is Cleo when she was found (via REUTERS)

Det Sgt Cameron Blaine was one of four police officers who raided the house in Carnarvon.

He said: "There could have been anyone of the team but it turned out that I was one of four guys that was fortunate enough to go through that door and make that rescue.

"We had always hoped for that outcome but were not prepared for it, it was absolutely fantastic.

"Originally, to see her sitting there in the way that she was, it was incredible.

"One of the guys jumped in front of me and picked her up and I just wanted to be absolutely sure, it certainly looked like Cleo, I wanted to be sure it was her.

"I said ‘what is your name?’ She didn’t answer, I asked again and she didn’t answer.

"I asked a third time and then she looked at me and said ‘my name is Cleo’. And that was it. Then we turned around and walked out of the house."

Cleo recovering in hospital (WESTERN AUSTRALIAN POLICE FORCE/)
The little girl before she was kidnapped (@elliejaydee23/Instagram)

How did her family react?

Following the good news that Cleo had been found safely her mum Ellie Smith took to social media to share her relief.

"Our family is whole again” she wrote on her Instagram page, next to a single heart emoji.

A close family friend also revealed an emotional message that Ellie wrote to her loved ones letting them know her 'beautiful girl is home'.

"To be woken at 4.50am with my phone going crazy at 4.50am and see the words Cleo is home alive and safe," she said on Facebook.

"Seeing Ellie saying her "beautiful girl is home" is nothing short of a miracle. We are so happy for her to be home."

Cleo's mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon (JAMES CARMODY/ABC NEWS POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)

Announcing the discovery earlier deputy commissioner Col Blanch said: “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."

The deputy commissioner added: “This is the outcome we all hoped and prayed for."

He said that "incredible police work" had led to Cleo's rescue and that the force would have "more to say" in the coming days.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison also welcomed the "wonderful, relieving news".

"Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound. Our prayers answered," he tweeted.

Cleo is carried inside a friend's house by her mother (Getty Images)

Who abducted Cleo?

Terence Darrell Kelly, 36, was charged with forcibly taking a child under 16 and pleaded guilty today.

Kelly, via video link from the high-security prison Casuarina Prison in Perth, admitted the charge.

According to reports the case will now be transferred to the West Australian District Court in Perth.

His shock guilty plea means he will avoid a lengthy trial for which detectives have been preparing for months.

Terence Darrell Kelly boards a plane after being taken into custody (Getty Images)

He is yet to enter a plea to other charges he faces as he appeared before Carnarvon Magistrates Court.

Kelly lived just 2 miles from Cleo's family home, where he kept the tot until she was found.

He allegedly made a strange post on Facebook at 5am on October 16, the morning that the little girl was snatched from her tent at the Blowholes campsite, where he said that he needed his privacy.

"I can't accept friend requests from strangers .... I live a private life and I respect those who are on my friend list to ensure their privacy is respected too," his Facebook status allegedly read, the Daily Mail reported.

"Us adults have to be careful online too."

His Facebook profile was reportedly following Ellie who was sharing updates of the investigation.

There was also interaction with a “sad” emoji from Kelly’s profile on one of the posts about Cleo.

Kelly had a separate Facebook account where he showed off his alleged obsession with dolls.

A video showed a room full of dolls in boxes piled up to the ceiling and he is there smiling at the collection.

Cleo was rescued unharmed from the house in the early hours of Wednesday morning where she was playing with toys.

Locally, Kelly has been known to buy dolls from a Toyworld store and people believed it was for extended family as he had no kids himself.

Kelly will be sentenced at a later date.

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