Australian man likely to be charged over girl who went missing from outback camp

SYDNEY, (Reuters) – Australian police said a 36-year-old man will likely be charged on Thursday with the disappearance of a four-year-old girl from an outback campsite who was eventually found safe in a locked house after missing for 18 days.

The man was taken to the hospital for an injury but he was now back at the police station and being interviewed by police, authorities said.

“There is still a lot of work to do … the investigation continues,” Western Australia state Police Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said during a media conference.

Cleo Smith was last seen in her family’s tent in the early hours of Oct. 16 at the remote Blowholes Shacks campsite in Macleod, sparking an extensive 18-day search involving land and air crews, roadblocks and CCTV footage.

She was eventually found safe early on Wednesday when police broke into a house in Carnarvon, a town about 100 km (62 miles) south of the campsite on the far northwest coast of the state. The house is just 3 km (2 miles) from her family home, Australian media reported.

Police on Thursday released an audio recording of when they entered the house and found Cleo in one of the rooms. “We’ve got her. We’ve got her,” an officer could be heard saying.

State Premier Mark McGowan said Cleo is a “very bright, upbeat, sweet little girl” and looked “very well adjusted” considering the ordeal, after meeting the family.

#CleoSmith has been trending on Twitter since Wednesday with a photo posted by the police of a smiling Cleo waving from her hospital bed getting nearly 54,000 likes. Many landmarks in Perth, the Western Australia state capital, were lit up in blue on Wednesday night to thank the police for helping find Cleo.