The days are long for Superintendent Rod Wilde, the man tasked with unraveling what happened to four-year-old Cleo Smith at the Blowholes campsite in Western Australia.
With 40 years of police under his belt, including 18 with the criminal squad, Wilde is no stranger to cases of missing children or working in the media spotlight.
But while many of her most high-profile investigations are unsolved cases, Cleo’s research tops Australia’s list of most urgent unsolved crimes.
Under tremendous pressure to solve a case that has captured the attention of media around the world, Wilde landed in the regional town of Carnarvon, about 10 hours north of Perth, just a few days ago to briefly join his officers at the investigative front.
It’s been two weeks today since Cleo went missing in the dead of night and without a trace from her family tent at the remote and wild Blowholes Campground.
Since that confusing night, forensic and veteran police officers of the specially created Rodia Task Force have been stationed in the nearby town of Carnarvon, systematically searching for clues as to Cleo’s whereabouts.
By their side, a community struggles to understand that something so sinister could have happened to one of their own, and bounty hunters looking for information to potentially cash in the million dollar reward. from the WA government for finding Cleo.
Led by Wilde, a 100-man police operation is now attempting to exclude campers who were staying at the remote site when the girl went missing.
Forensic scientists have searched the home of Cleo’s mother, Ellie Smith, and her partner, Jake Gliddon, three times in the past week – once to check for signs of a stalker and two more to look for other clues about what could have happened to Cléo.
After examining the fence, window sills and exterior of the property, Wilde said officers found no evidence that Cleo had been torn off by someone who had previously prowled around the South Carnarvon home.
With his team working late into the night and despite 200 reported and updated Cleo sightings, Wilde said they still had no suspects.
He stressed that the search of Cleo’s house was nothing more than a routine procedure.
“It’s part of what we do in major investigations like this,” Wilde said. “Just so that we don’t miss anything – don’t neglect anything. “
Meanwhile, the country’s leading crime-fighting agency has entered the ring and, according to media reports, is using spy planes to sweep the area.
On Thursday, Seven News reported that reconnaissance planes – essentially military planes capable of collecting images and performing real-time surveillance – were part of the technology used.
While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed Australian Federal Police are assisting in the operation, he has been quiet about the “advanced capabilities” and “craft” being deployed.
“I just want to assure everyone over there in WA, especially poor Cleo’s family and friends, that really captures the spirits of the country,” Morrison said in a radio interview.
“It has certainly captured our minds here and our hearts go out to them. “
What police have revealed is that “credible sources” reported seeing a passenger vehicle leaving Blowholes Road and heading for the freeway around the time Cleo was likely kidnapped.
“If anyone saw car movement around 3 a.m. heading south on the coastal highway from Blowholes Road, this is one of our areas of investigation,” the commissioner said. Acting Police, Colonel Blanch.
“That doesn’t mean we’re saying it’s the person. But, certainly, driving at 3 in the morning, getting out of there would pique our interest. “
CCTV of warehouses in the Carnarvon Light Industrial Zone and homes and businesses on the main northwest coast road has been obtained by police.
More than 100 campers were also interviewed, but Wilde said there were people who were in the isolated camp – an hour north of Carnarvon – on October 16 who still have not been identified.
As Smith and Gliddon toured Carnarvon Police Station on Wednesday, forensic police returned to Blowholes Campground to collect ash samples from old fireplaces.
Wilde said police would examine in detail all relevant past incidents, including a 2014 report that a girl was asked to the Blowholes to get into a small red car driven by a man in his 40s. On this occasion, the girl ran away and the mother reported the incident to the police.
“We go back and check all the reports, but I can say there hasn’t been anything like it [to the Cleo disappearance] lately, ”Wilde said.
At the campsite, where dense, wild brush and spinifex surround tents and a handful of dilapidated cabins, there isn’t much left of the massive search team that scoured the dunes two weeks before, except for a few pink and orange ribbons attached to doorknobs.
They are a symbol, it seems, of places the police have already swept.
While the cabins are almost deserted, a dozen campers have been installed this week in a calm and windy place. The plot of land where Cleo was last seen in her family tent was empty on Wednesday.
University of Melbourne Associate Professor Andrew Dodd, currently on long-term leave, arrived at Blowhole Campground as part of his long-planned travel itinerary.
He said the camp was quiet and people going about their business, but there was an overwhelming sense of sadness that something deeply awful had happened.
“You find yourself staring at the edge as you drive along the road for a sign of a red sleeping bag,” Dodd said.
“Just everyone is interested, but you are also overwhelmed by the feeling how impossible it is to find someone here. “
Carnarvon County President Eddie Smith said his town is doing everything possible to help find Cleo, but people are suffering.
Spirits have heated up since the usually quiet town, best known for fishing and farming, was inundated with media. Locals have been contacted by self-appointed investigators and heartless comments about the family have been shared on social media.
Reports that bounty hunters could search abandoned buildings and vast salt lakes for clues are leading authorities to urge people not to do anything stupid.
“It’s a very dry and inhospitable country, there isn’t much shade, so common sense has to prevail,” Smith said. “The coast near the vents is an extremely safe beach, but not so much north and south of it. “
A GoFundMe page, organized by a family friend to raise funds for local businesses that have helped with the research, has so far raised more than $ 84,000.
Smith says community members have been shocked by media reports of sex offenders living in the area.
“Carnarvon takes care of his family, it is very parochial and very stoic and [Cleo’s disappearance] is not something this community would have ever expected to happen here, ”said Smith.
“The vents were our city’s playground,” he said. “Everyone was taking care of everyone, everyone was really doing it and there was never a problem, and that has now been destroyed. “
On Thursday evening, a vigil was held at the local church for school friends, teachers and families.
“As a community we will stay positive, I’m sure our positivity will lead to the best possible outcome. “
Day for Daniel
Australia’s largest child safety education and awareness day was held on Friday in memory of 13-year-old Daniel Morcombe, who was kidnapped and killed on the Sunshine Coast almost 18 years ago.
Daniel’s dad told the West Australian that he felt immediate flashbacks when he heard about Cleo.
“We could feel their emotion as they spoke because we walked in their shoes. We sat on this chair.
“We felt totally overwhelmed, as I’m sure Cleo’s parents did, and you’re wondering, ‘What’s the point? If there has been a mishap, will it make a difference? ‘
“Making this public appeal is incredibly difficult, but it serves a purpose. “
WA Premier Mark McGowan has pleaded for anyone with information to contact the police. “We need everyone to keep an eye on, no matter where they are in WA.
“I urge you if you know where she is, if you have knowledge, if you have any advice, please pass it on to the police.
“Please let’s bring little Cleo home to her family. “