The devastated mother of Cleo Smith who vanished from a coastal campsite in Western Australia has described her heartbreak as the desperate search continues for the four-year-old girl.
The family of four was staying in a tent at the Blowholes Campground in Macleod, near Carnarvon, when Cleo was reported missing about 6am on Saturday.
On Tuesday, her distraught mother Ellie Smith spoke publicly about Cleo’s disappearance for the first time since posting about it on social media over the weekend.
“We’re going to find her — we have to,” Ms Smith said.
Appearing exhausted and speaking through tears, Ms Smith said the past few days had been “horrendous”.
She said Cleo would never wander off and would have asked for help to unzip her one-piece sleeping suit.
“She’s lazy when it comes to walking,” Ms Smith said.
“She’d never leave the tent alone.”
Asked if they feared someone had taken Cleo, Ms Smith said the family was still hoping to find her.
Ms Smith said someone had to know where Cleo was.
“Someone has to — it’s been four days,” she said.
Camera IconCleo Smith’s mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon ABC News Credit: Supplied
The last time Ms Smith saw her daughter was at 1.30am when Cleo woke up to ask for water.
“I got her some water. She went to bed,” Ms Smith said.
Cleo was sleeping beside her younger sister Isla who was in a cot, while Ms Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon slept on a mattress in a room next to them.
“I checked on Isla, made sure Isla was OK. I got back in bed and that was it really,” Ms Smith said.
“We went back to sleep. (I later) woke up to Isla wanting a bottle.
“As we passed the divider, 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.”
Ms Smith said Cleo’s sleeping bag was also missing.
“She was gone. The tent was completely open. It was about 30cm from open,” Ms Smith said.
“I turned to Jake and said: ‘Cleo’s gone.’
“We went looking, trekking, making sure she wasn’t around the tent.
“Then we got in the car and started driving around everywhere.”
Ms Smith said she was very familiar with the area.
“We literally grew up 100m from where we stayed at the same age, so we just looked everywhere that we went as kids and we couldn’t find her,” she said.
“We realised we had to call the cops because she wasn’t here.”
Ms Smith described what was going through her mind at the time.
“Where is she? She needs breakfast. What is she doing? Everything’s going through my head,” she said.
Camera IconCleo Smith’s mother Ellie Smith. ABC News Credit: Supplied
Appearing emotional during the interview, Ms Smith described her ongoing anguish.
“We haven’t really slept. We’ve had so much family help us, support us,” she said.
“Everyone asks us what we need and all we need is our little girl home.”
Ms Smith said she did not know what happened to Cleo.
“No idea. There’s probably a million things that I’ve thought of … they are searching every angle that we probably have thought of,” she said.
“The worst part is, we can’t do anything more. It’s out of our hands so we feel hopeless and it’s out of control.
“We sit and watch the sand dunes and think she’s going to run down it and back into our arms, but we’re still waiting.”
Camera IconCleo Smith’s mother Ellie Smith and her partner Jake Gliddon. ABC News Credit: Supplied
Ms Smith described her daughter as “beautiful, delicate and funny”, with “the biggest heart”.
She also said Cleo loves make-up and collecting rocks.
“Every day she wants to wear a princess dress,” Ms Smith said.
“She’s so sweet – everything you’d want in a little girl.”
Although Cleo was “terrified of the ocean”, Ms Smith said she had been looking forward to building sand castles and the family had also brought Cleo’s bike so she could learn to ride without training wheels.
“Cleo was born eight weeks early, she was premature and she’s been strong from the day she was born, so I know she can get through whatever she’s going through,” Ms Smith said.
Wild weather hindered the search on Tuesday morning, but by midday local time the operation was back on track.
Mounted police joined the frantic search for Cleo, which has already included expert trackers, State Emergency Service personnel, detectives from the major crime and homicide squads, volunteers and a tourist helicopter business.
WA Police have also asked agencies in other jurisdictions across the country to spread the word, taking the desperate search nationwide.
Authorities have not ruled out any theories, including the possibility Cleo was abducted.
Inspector Jon Munday has conceded that if Cleo was taken she “could be anywhere by now”.
He also confirmed Cleo’s biological father Daniel Staines had been questioned in Mandurah, but said that was standard procedure and there was no suggestion Mr Staines had anything to do with the girl’s disappearance.
There were reports a car was heard skidding in the area about 3am on the morning Cleo vanished, but police have not commented further about it.
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 $48,000.
Anyone with information is urged to call police on 131 444.
Anyone who passed through the area between Friday and Sunday is also urged to come forward, especially if they have dashcam footage.Internet Explorer Channel Network