Police on Thursday charged a 36-year-old man with the abduction of four-year-old Australian girl Cleo Smith, hours after they released an audio recording of the touching moment she was rescued.
Smith disappeared from her family’s tent in remote Western Australia last month, sparking a frantic air, land and sea search.
She was missing for 18 days until being rescued in a night raid on an empty home in the coastal town of Carnarvon—just a short drive from where she went missing.
A 36-year-old man was arrested nearby and appeared in Carnarvon Magistrate’s Court on Thursday.
Police confirmed he was charged with various offences, including one count of forcibly taking a child under 16.
He was not required to enter a plea and was remanded in custody until December 6 when he will next appear.
The charges had been delayed after the man sustained unspecified injuries in custody that required hospital treatment.
Lead investigator, detective superintendent Rod Wilde said police alleged he “acted solely alone” in abducting the little girl.
Many had feared the search for Cleo Smith would end in tragedy, but the discovery of her “alive and well” sparked nationwide elation, with police admitting “seasoned detectives” were “openly crying with relief”.
The force on Thursday released audio recording of the rescue, in which officers can be heard urgently trying to affirm her identity.
“We’ve got her”, “you’re alright” excited police are heard to say, before another asks “What’s your name? What’s your name? What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“M-my name is Cleo,” the girl eventually responds.
“Your name is Cleo,” the relieved detective repeats. “Hello Cleo.”
After Cleo’s ordeal was over her mother, Ellie, posted on Instagram that “our family is whole again”.
Their small hometown of Carnarvon, which had spent weeks on edge after the girl’s disappearance, was soon decked out in balloons and “welcome home” signs as residents celebrated the news.
One of her rescuers, detective Cameron Blaine, said he visited the family after Cleo was released from a brief hospital stay Wednesday and she appeared to be coping well.
“It was really heartwarming to see her interact and playing in the backyard and just being herself and around her parents,” he said.
“I’m amazed she seems to be so well-adjusted and happy.” Cleo’s mother had woken at 6 am on October 16 to find the family’s tent unzipped and her oldest daughter missing, sparking a massive ground, air and sea search.
Police have said they believe the abduction was unplanned and “opportunistic”.—APP