The discovery of Cleo Smith has eerie similarities to toddler ‘AJ’, who was found four days after going missing.
Two months. Two missing children. Two successful searches.
As news of Cleo Smith’s safety reverberates across the nation, echoes of a similarly desperate – and ultimately successful – search are coming back around.
It was just 10 weeks ago that the family of three-year-old Anthony “AJ” Elfalak feared the worst after the non-verbal autistic boy went missing near his home in the NSW Hunter Valley.
But after being lost in rugged bushland for three days, a blurry image taken from a police helicopter showed him drinking muddy water at a creek on September 6.
The boy’s reunion with his family triggered a wave of emotional scenes as family members threw their hands in the air, screaming and crying from happiness and relief.
“Thank you for everyone. Thank you for the government. Thank you for the police. Thank you very much,” AJ‘s mum Kelly told Nine News at the time.
Australians were similarly united in joy after waking to the news on Wednesday that Cleo Smith had been recovered “alive and well” from a locked house in Carnarvon, having been missing for 18 days.
Detectives found Cleo in the early hours of the morning, about 70km from the campsite at the Quobba Blowholes where the four-year-old disappeared.
“A police team broke their way into a locked house in Carnarvon about 1am (Perth time). They found little Cleo in one of the rooms,” Deputy Commissioner Col Blanch said in a statement.
“One of the officers picked her up into his arms and asked her ‘what’s your name?’ She said, ‘My name is Cleo’.”
Cleo was reunited with her parents a short time later, with her mother Ellie acknowledging her recovery by sharing a photo of Cleo on Instagram.
“Our family is whole again,” she wrote.
A 36-year-old Carnarvon man with no connection to the family has been taken into custody and is being questioned over the incident.
The seemingly fruitless effort to locate the missing girl involved hundreds of police officers searching vast swathes of the countryside and hundreds of kilometres of roadside bins for evidence, with thousands of calls coming in to CrimeStoppers during the nearly three-week ordeal.
Similarly, the recovery of AJ back in September involved a co-ordinated multi-agency response, with assistance from trail bike officers, police rescue, the dog unit, police divers and PolAir.
Police were assisted by NSW Ambulance, State Emergency Service, Rural Fire Service, and the Volunteer Rescue Association, while more than 100 emergency service workers and volunteers also helped with the search.
Meanwhile, 14-year-old William Callaghan was returned to his family in July last year after spending two nights lost in freezing temperatures at Mount Disappointment north of Melbourne.
The boy, who has non-verbal autism, was found by volunteers and spent a short time in hospital before being released.