Just weeks before her alleged abduction, Cleo Smith endured a family tragedy involving an adored relative not much younger than her.
It was in late July this year that Cleo lost her young cousin Mason to a rare genetic disease around the time of his third birthday.
The two little cousins had enjoyed a close relationship according to social media posts, with one image showing Cleo tenderly touching her cousin’s face during a family holiday.
In another image, captioned ‘cousin love’, Cleo, then aged three, embraced two-year-old Mason and both children were in the arms of their grandmother, Sheryl Gliddon.
‘Mason is blessed to have the most wonderful big cousin and a new little one on the way,’ read the November 2020 photo’s caption, which referred to the impending birth of Cleo’s little sister, Isla, in March this year.
Cleo Smith tenderly touches younger cousin Mason (above) on a family holiday before the little boy’s untimely death from a rare disorder 11 weeks before Cleo’s alleged abduction
Cleo Smith, above in her mum Ellie’s arms at Carnarvon police station on Tuesday, lost her little cousin Mason in another tragedy to strike the family just weeks earlier
Back then, in the world of Cleo’s mother and stepfather (Ellie Smith and Jake Gliddon), it was Jake’s sister Shakira Otway and her husband Les who had been touched by tragedy.
Born in July 2018, Mason began to have uncontrollable seizures by the following January, according to the Facebook page set up by his family to chart Mason’s journey.
The Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) flew the infant to Perth Children’s Hospital (PCH) and ‘there he was diagnosed with Lissencephaly a rare brain condition that has caused Mason’s brain to develop smoothly’, the page says.
‘He has also been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, epilepsy, vision impairment and global development delays.’
In the November 2020 Facebook post featuring the photo of little Mason with his cousin Cleo cuddling one another, a friend has written ‘gorgeous photo of Cleo and Mason’.
A post written by Mason’s parents says the family had a holiday at Exmouth, 360km north of Carnarvon, and that the little boy ‘loved sitting by the pool and getting lots of cuddles from everyone’.
Cleo’s stepfather Jake Gliddon, above loading gifts into the family car on Tuesday, is the uncle of Mason who died from rare disorder lissencephaly in late July this year
‘The memories we make with Mason are becoming ever more precious as the horrible year of hospital stays continues,’ the Facebook post read.
‘Sadly we had another RFDS flight to PCH last night as Mason got a fever, seizures and respiratory issues once again.
‘Fingers and toes are crossed this is a short visit and we can come home soon.’
As Jake and Ellie welcomed the birth of Cleo’s younger sister Isla, it appeared that Mason’s condition was deteriorating.
WA detective Cameron Blaine wearing a blue forensic suit at the Carnarvon crime scene on Tuesday
According to Families of Lissencephaly, an Australian group formed to help sufferers and educate others, children with the condition suffer seizures, and feeding and respiratory issues.
Jake Gliddon and his sister Shakira come from a family who live in Carnarvon and and are well-respected in the Gascoyne region of Western Australia, and renowned as fishing, motor bike and quad bike enthusiasts.
Their parents Terrance and Sheryl originally hail from the Pinjarra and Dwellingup regions south of Perth.
Jake Gliddon attended Carnarvon Senior High School, now known as Carnarvon Community Colege.
Jake Gliddon (above with Ellie Smith) went from being an uncle who helped support his sister and brother-in-law with their sick boy, to a stepfather grieving the disappearance of Cleo
This is the same school listed on Facebook by the man accused of kidnapping Cleo Smith, although he attended the school years before Jake’s 2008 graduation..
From November 2019, Shakira and Les Otway began recording on a special Facebook page ‘a little boy’s story about his life with lissencephaly’.
The page was subtitled ‘Never Give Up’.
Like other parents of children with Lissencephaly have around the world, the Otways shared Mason’s ‘adventures, struggles and accomplishments with all his friends and family’.
Then on July 26, Shakira and Les Otway posted two photos of their son smiling into the camera and broke some tragic news.
The post read: ‘It gives us the greatest pain to tell you all that our little warrior Mason Jay Otway lost his fight Sunday night in the arms of his Mum and Dad.
‘Rest easy little warrior, we will always love you. Mum and Dad.’
Of the many heartfelt responses to the sad announcement, one friend wrote: ‘Shakira and Les, my heart breaks for you.
‘You gave Mason the best life a little guy could ask for, filled with fun, explorations and more love than he could know.
‘Thinking of you and all your extended family at this time.’
On September 8, Shakira Otway posted a video of a smiling Mason two days in advance of international Lissencephaly Awareness Day, writing ‘Forever watching over us with that sparkle in your eye and cheeky smile on your face’.
Just seven week later, Ms Otway and her relatives were posting about the disappearance of Mason’s cousin, four-year-old Cleo from the Quobba Blowholes campsite north of Carnarvon.
Cleo vanished from the tent shared with her baby sister Isla, mother Ellie Smith and stepfather Jake Gliddon sometime between 1.30am and 6am on October 16.
On that day, friends of Shakira posted messages on Facebook to her, saying ‘big hugs and love to you’ and ‘Keep looking for that little darling. My heart goes out to you all’.
For 18 days the family lived in a new, different nightmare until the miracle moment just after 1am on Wednesday, November 3.
Terrance Kelly being transported from Carnarvon to Casuarina Prison, south of Perth on November 5
WA detectives entered a locked, dilapidated house in the Carnarvon suburb of Brockman and found Cleo alive and playing with toys in a room.
A 36-year-old man, Terence Darrell Kelly, had been arrested in his vehicle minutes earlier.
He was transported from Carnarvon to Casuarina Prison, south of Perth on November 5.
Daily Mail Australia has approached the family for a response.
What is the rare brain disorder Lissencephaly?
Lissencephaly is a rare disorder which literally means ‘smooth brain’ because instead of the brain’s surface having grooves and bulges it is smooth like an egg.
It occurs in about every 100,000 births of children and causes feeding difficulties, seizures, respiratory problems and affects muscle tone.
The prognosis for children with lissencephaly depends on the degree of brain malformation.
Many will die before the age of 10 years, often from aspiration of food or fluids, respiratory disease, or severe seizures.
Some will survive, but show no significant development beyond a 3-5 month-old level.
Others may have near-normal development and intelligence.
A common complaint by parents of children with this disease is there is not enough information available on how to treat it or what to expect from a child diagnosed with lyssencephaly.
Websites for support or information about the condition include the Lissencephaly Foundation Inc, Lissencephaly Awareness Day, the Lissencephaly information page of the US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and the Genetic Alliance of Australia.