Cleo Smith suffers from nightmares 18 months after police rescued her from a terrifying 18-day kidnapping ordeal which sparked interest from across the world.
The little girl, who was four at the time, was snatched in the dead of night as she slept next to her parents and little sister on a camping trip at the Blowholes campsite near Carnarvon in Western Australia’s remote north-west.
On the morning of October 16, 2021, Cleo’s mum Ellie Smith made a panicked phone call to police in the desperate minutes after her and step-dad Jake Gliddon frantically searched the area.
‘My daughter’s gone missing,’ Ms Smith says on the triple-zero call.
‘How old is your daughter love?’ the operator asks.
‘She’s four,’ Ms Smith replies.
‘Have we checked everywhere?’ the operator continues.
‘Yeah, we have done two laps of the place so we have checked everywhere,’ Ms Smith says.
Ellie Smith (pictured centre left) and her partner Jake Gliddon (pictured right) have relived the trauma of their daughter Cleo’s abduction in 2021
On the night of the abduction ice addict Terence Darrell Kelly unzipped the family’s tent some time after 1.30am, put Cleo in a car and drove back to Carnarvon.
The plot was part of a bizarre fantasy for the man who had a large doll collection and wanted to have a ‘real family’.
The parents had not idea what had happened and when police arrived at the scene they were promptly questioned.
Bodycam footage shows a remarkably calm Ms Smith answering police as they began a massive land, sea and air search fearing she had wandered off or fell into the ocean from the rocky cliffs nearby.
‘We woke up this morning and she (Cleo) was missing,’ Ms Smith tells the officer.
‘She’s missing and her sleeping bag is missing. It’s a big thermal black and red sleeping bag. It’s quite heavy I couldn’t see her carrying it.’
The hunt for Cleo made world headlines and involved 140 police assisted by SES crews during the first five days of the search around the campsite.
The family have revealed that Cleo, now aged five, still has nightmares every week following her 18-day ordeal
Ms Smith revealed the family of four, which includes Cleo’s younger step-sister Isla Gliddon, took a four-month trip around Australia to bond again after police dramatically arrested Kelly and raided his house rescuing the little girl.
‘We were able to find ourselves again after trauma,’ Ms Smith said told 60 Minutes.
‘As long as she (Cleo) is running, jumping, dancing she is happy.
‘We had to make sure she felt safe and felt comfortable.’
However, Ms Smith revealed Cleo has ‘sad nights, nightmare nights’ every week.
‘She doesn’t have the words to express what she’s sad about,’ she said.
Mr Gliddon explained how they reassure the now the five-year-old she’s okay.
‘(We) Give her cuddles, reassure her that everything is fine, sneak her a few a chocolates,’ he said.
WA Police Minister Paul Papalia said police did an outstanding job but to find Cleo in the time they did with no immediate leads was almost miraculous.
Terence Kelly (pictured) has lodged an appeal against his 13-and-a-half year sentence for abducting Cleo
‘Almost every police officer who made a decision about this situation made the right call,’ he said.
‘It was crucial they had the mindset it was an abduction and they were going to find her and rescue her.’
The breakthrough came when Kelly turned on his mobile phone while driving with Cleo on a back route dirt road to Carnarvon.
The phone’s signal was picked up by a mobile tower and this one clue eventually led police to make Kelly their main suspect.
Mr Papalia said arriving at this point meant police sifting through mountains of information.
‘From one tower they would have thousands of data sets,’ he said
‘They needed to eliminate the clutter.’
Police pounced on Kelly on November 2 arresting him just before midnight when they had observed him behaving and driving erratically.
Ms Smith (pictured right with Cleo) said the family took a four-month trip around Australia to recover after the kidnapping
Shortly after they raided his home, which was only three kilometres from Cleo’s house, and found the little girl who was able to identify herself.
Ms Smith praised the work of officers.
‘They were fast, they were efficient, the second they got details they jumped in,’ she said.
It transpired that Kelly, who collected children’s Bratz dolls, had brazenly responded to Ms Smith’s social media posts pleading for Cleo’s return by posting comments demanding ‘whoever’ had the child bring her back.
He bound Cleo with sticky tape and when she cried out for her parents Kelly drowned out the sound by turning up the radio – even as news reports concerning girl were read out and she recognised her name.
Ms Smith said police explained Kelly’s ‘disgusting’ motives in kidnapping Cleo.
‘He had his fantasies and he was trying to make them come to life,’ she said.
‘He wanted a daughter and wanted a wife. He had to make that come to life.
‘He wanted a little girl that was a little doll.’
Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon (pictured) made a surprise appearance at Kelly’s sentencing in the District Court of WA in April, 2023
Kelly’s legal team confirmed this week their client has lodged an appeal over the 13-and-a-half-year sentence handed down to him after he admitted forcibly detaining a child under the age of 16.
Ms Smith and Mr Gliddon made a surprise appearance at Kelly’s sentencing in the District Court of WA last month.
Sentencing judge Julie Wager described the fear, distress and trauma caused to Cleo and her parents as ‘immeasurable’.
‘Eighteen days without contact or explanation, and with hours totally on her own and no access to the outside world, would have been very traumatic,’ the judge said.
Ms Smith admitted she felt a ‘big ball of anger’ building up before Kelly’s sentencing but was trying to put the traumatic incident behind the family now.
‘We have Cleo and we have our family and we try not to dwell on him (Kelly) and the bad things that happened,’ she said.
‘We try not to let it rule our lives.’
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