WA government offers huge reward to help solve Cleo Smith mystery disappearance
A massive reward of up to $1m is being offered to help solve the mystery disappearance of Cleo Smith, as police confirm they suspect the four-year-old girl was abducted.
Cleo was staying in a tent with her family at the coastal Blowholes Campground in Macleod, near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s north, when she was reported missing about 6am on Saturday.
Premier Mark McGowan said the circumstances surrounding her disappearance had caused police to suspect it was suspicious.
He said the reward would be paid for information that resulted in finding Cleo, or leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever was involved in her suspicious disappearance.
“All Western Australians’ thoughts are with Cleo’s family during what is an unimaginably difficult time,” Mr McGowan said.
“We’re all praying for a positive outcome.
“We want to ensure police have everything they need to solve this case and that’s why my government has no hesitation in supporting police with this reward offer.”
Police Minister Paul Papalia said the situation was every parent’s “worst nightmare”.
“I’ve been advised every available police resource is being directed into this investigation and I’ve reassured the Acting Commissioner the government will support police with any request they make to help solve this crime,” he said.
“I’d hope most people would willingly come forward if they had information that could assist police, but if this reward motivates someone to help police bring Cleo home, then the government is more than happy to offer it.
“I urge anyone who knows what happened to little Cleo to come forward with the information police need to find her.”
Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch said there had already been an extensive land, sea and air search, and police had now established a special taskforce of more than 100 officers.
“Her disappearance strikes at the heart of West Australians, and I’m here today to provide assurance to the community that everything that can be done is being done,” he told reporters.
“For six days, they’ve been out there. There’s been a lot of anguish and I know there’s been a huge outpouring of grief in the community.
“The searchers themselves have been doing it tough, but they’re dedicated. They’ve been doing very long days but I think the community knows how important this is.
“Someone in our community knows what happened to Cleo ... now there’s a million reasons why that you need to come forward.
“Our priority is to bring Cleo home.”
Superintendent Rod Wilde, who is leading the taskforce, said police were hopeful of finding Cleo alive but held “grave fears” for her safety.
“Given the information now that we’ve gleaned from the scene, the fact that search has gone on for this period of time, when we haven’t been able to locate her ... that leads us to believe that she was taken from the tent,” he said.
Asked if she was likely abducted by a stranger, he said police were keeping an open mind and looking at all of the possibilities.
Mr Blanch said the public’s eyes and ears were vital to the investigation.
“We’ve got the nation looking for Cleo ... it’s not just up to police to find Cleo, that’s why we are making a public appeal ... everyone needs to be looking for Cleo,” Mr Blanch said.
“Look at people who have acted strangely since the 16th ... ask questions.”
Mr Blanch said there had been hundreds of calls to Crime Stoppers, mostly about suspicious people in the area and police had been looking into those reports.
“Sex offenders would certainly be on the list of persons of interest,” he said when asked specifically about sex offenders.
But he refused to discuss any exhibits that police had already collected during their investigation.
Earlier on Thursday, Cleo’s heartbroken mother Ellie Smith took to social media to plead for information to help find her daughter.
“My sweet girl, come home to me,” Ms Smith wrote on Instagram.
“If anyone sees anything at all, please call the police.”
The post has attracted many comments of support from her followers.
“You’re in my thoughts everyday, willing Cleo to be found,” one person wrote.
“My heart breaks for you and your family. I’m sending all my love and all the positivity I can muster your way.”
Another person wrote: “Thinking of you and praying for her safe return. We all need to keep sharing everyday … someone knows something, no matter how big or small the detail. Keep Cleo in everyone’s mind.”
Police have been working to two theories – that Cleo left the tent on her own and wandered off, or that someone abducted her.
The search — which also includes the Australian Defence Force, State Emergency Service and local business volunteers — is continuing and authorities have already scoured more than 20 sqkm.
Police confirmed on Wednesday that one of the zippered entrances to the tent was open beyond a height Cleo could have reached herself.
Her sleeping bag was also missing.
Inspector Jon Munday said if someone took Cleo they could have left the campsite before police set up roadblocks around the area.
Police revealed between 10 and 20 registered sex offenders live in the Carnarvon area.
Inspector Munday said police had identified and spoken to any registered sex offenders in the area but had no suspects in relation to the case.
While police were bracing for a “nightmare scenario” that Cleo was taken, Inspector Munday said they remained hopeful that Cleo was still alive and were still giving equal weight to the theory that she wandered off.
“We will be here until we are satisfied that Cleo is not in this area,” he said.
Inspector Munday said Ms Smith and Cleo’s stepfather Jake Gliddon would remain in the area.
“They don’t want to leave and that’s completely understandable ... as you can imagine, they don’t know what to do, they’re distraught,” he said.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by local man Bill Kent to help Cleo’s family and the search efforts, so far raising more than $62,000.
“We have had an unlimited amount of resources and people assist in the search and support towards finding her,” Mr Kent wrote in an update on Thursday.
“The funds from this will be covering costs for the assets/small businesses involved in the search.
“After the costs have been covered, the rest of the funds will go towards Ellie and Jake.”
Anyone with information is urged to call police on 131 444.
Anyone who passed through the area is also urged to come forward, especially if they have dashcam footage.
Originally published as WA government offers huge reward to help solve Cleo Smith mystery disappearance
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