'My name is Cleo': four-year-old Australian girl found after 18-day search

·3-min read
Four-year-old Cleo Smith was found after police forced their way into a locked house not far from where she was last seen 18 days ago (AFP/Handout)

A four-year-old Australian girl was found "alive and well" on Wednesday, police said, sparking elation Down Under more than two weeks after she disappeared from her family's tent during a camping trip.

Cleo Smith was found alone inside a locked house in the coastal town of Carnarvon, not far from where she was believed to have been abducted 18 days ago, Western Australia police said.

"One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her 'what's your name?'," police deputy commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement posted on Facebook.

"She said 'My name is Cleo'."

Police detained a man from Carnarvon for questioning after breaking into the house at about 1:00 am local time, Blanch said.

The young girl was reunited with her parents a short time later, with her mother Ellie taking to social media to express her relief.

"Our family is whole again," she posted on Instagram under a photo of Cleo.

Ellie Smith had earlier described her distress at waking at 6.00 am to find the family's tent unzipped and her oldest daughter missing. Her pleas for help to bring Cleo home had prompted an outpouring of public support.

Their reunion came after an extensive air, sea and ground search that drew national attention, prompting many Australians to share their joy on social media after more than two weeks of anguish.

Blanch told Perth radio station 6PR that he saw "seasoned detectives openly crying with relief" after Cleo was found, calling the rescue "just incredible".

"It's very rare. It's something we all hoped in our hearts, and it's come true," he said.

Western Australia police commissioner Chris Dawson said officers were questioning a 36-year-old man who had no connection to the girl's family.

No further details were released about the exact circumstances of her disappearance or how she was tracked down.

- 'Australia is rejoicing' -

Investigators had been determined they "were not going to leave any stone unturned", even as the search dragged on, Dawson said.

"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."

"Hope was never lost and the fact she's been found alive, I think Australia is rejoicing. It is such a wonderful outcome."

Dawson said Cleo was "as well as we could expect in the circumstances", while Blanch added that she was being assessed by a medical team.

Police last month had offered Aus$1 million (US$750,000) for information leading to Cleo's recovery after she was feared abducted from her family's tent at the remote Blowholes campsite -- about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) north of Perth -- on October 16.

Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said at the time that the investigation "leads us to believe that she was taken from the tent", and that authorities had reason to fear for her safety.

Police on Wednesday praised the family for their strength through the ordeal, while thanking the local community and volunteers for their help in the search.

hr/arb

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