In this photo provided by the Western Australia Police, four-year-old Cleo Smith waves as she sits on a bed in hospital, Nov 3, 2021, in Carnarvon, Western Australia. (WESTERN AUSTRALIA POLICE VIA AP)
SYDNEY – A 4-year-old girl who went missing from an Australian outback campsite more than two weeks ago has been returned safely to her parents after she was rescued by police from a locked house, authorities said on Wednesday.
Police broke into a house in Carnarvon, a town about 100 km south of the campsite, early on Wednesday morning and found Cleo Smith in one of the rooms.
Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said a man has been taken into custody in relation to the disappearance
"One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her 'what's your name?'. She said 'My name is Cleo'," Western Australia Police Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said on local television. A man has been taken into custody in relation to the disappearance, he said.
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Cleo was last seen in her family's tent at about 1:30 am local time (1730 GMT) on Oct 16 at the remote Blowholes Shacks campsite in Macleod, about 900 km north of Perth, the capital of Western Australia state. When her parents woke next morning, she was gone.
Australian police had feared the girl had been abducted and offered a A$1 million ($743,000) reward for any information leading to the girl's whereabouts.
"What a great day. We now have returned Cleo to her loving parents. It's a wonderful day for this little girl and her loving family," WA Commissioner Chris Dawson said in a separate televised press appearance.
A team of 140 people had been working on the case with police fielding more than 1,000 tips from the public.
Police said the abduction appears to have been opportunistic and they expect to file charges later in the day.
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"She is physically OK. That was evident from the start," said state police homicide squad Senior Sergeant Cameron Blaine, who was one of four people to rescue the child.
"Taking her to the hospital we got assurance of that from people that know what they are doing."
He said finding her was "without a doubt" the best moment of his career.
"She is a very sweet, energetic girl, very trusting and very open with us," he said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison also welcomed the "wonderful, relieving news".
"Cleo Smith has been found and is home safe and sound. Our prayers answered," Morrison said on Twitter.