The Carnarvon community breathed a collective relieved sigh with some weeping tears of joy as Cleo Smith was reunited with his family.
- Cleo Smith was found by police in a house in Carnarvon this morning
- The community celebrates after she was reunited with her family
- Welcome home signs have been put up locally and across the state
The quiet town of northwestern WA, with a population of about 5,000, was thrown into the spotlight 18 days ago when the little girl disappeared from her tent at the popular Blowholes campgrounds.
Local resident Leticia Andreoli – whose son attends Cleos class at St Mary Star of the Sea Catholic School – said there was happiness on the streets of Carnarvon today.
“Walking around the city, it feels like this cloud has been lifted,” she said.
“Being in the city over the last two and a half weeks has been pretty sad. You could feel the atmosphere that everyone was feeling really sad and worried.
“It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling in the city today.”
The school’s principal, Steve O’Halloran, said their community was “enthusiastically relieved” to hear the news.
“Every member of our school community shares my feelings of gratitude for this result,” he said.
“We will continue to pray for Cleo and her family with respect for their dignity and privacy as they address this event and the investigation continues.”
Tears of joy at local pub
At the Carnarvon Hotel, locals raise a glass for Cleo’s return.
Jessica Fernihough said balloons are being set up around town to celebrate it.
“Everyone just had tears of joy. Your heart skips a beat. [We’re] just so relieved, “she said.
Mrs Fernihough said it was impossible to go on social media without seeing posts about the four-year-old.
“Whether it was in Carnarvon, Perth, Exmouth, Geraldton, even people who do not live in Western Australia. You’ve just seen so much joy, so many comments,” she said.
‘The best news to wake up to’
The helicopter pilot and local Dave Amman in Carnarvon dropped everything to search for Cleo from the sky when she disappeared.
He and his colleagues at Coral Coast Helicopters stopped operations to search “as low, far and wide” as they could.
Sir. Amman told ABC Radio Perth that the four-year-old had been the only thing the locals had been thinking about for the past 18 days and that the news of her discovery was overwhelming.
“I saw all the news articles show up when I woke up early this morning. At first I thought it was fake,” he said.
The local SES unit – which spent days involved in the ground search for Cleo, along with units from Kalbarri, Shark Bay, Eneabba, Geraldton and Exmouth – was jubilant.
“The best news to wake up to this morning,” SES Carnarvon wrote on social media.
“We are so relieved on behalf of her family.”
Shire President ‘speechless’ when he heard news
Shire President Eddie Smith was lost for words when news of her rescue broke out.
“I’m a bit speechless. I’m trying to get my head around the fact that she’s been found,” he told ABC Radio’s AM program.
“It will take a bit to absorb, everyone has been so worried and worried.
“It’s absolutely amazing. It’s wonderful.”
ABC Radio Perth Mornings host Nadia Mitsopoulos said a listener sent a text message with a picture of a road sign with the words: ‘Welcome home Cleo’.
For Mrs. Andreoli’s young son, like so many others, the news is still sinking in.
“Last night before bed he said, ‘Oh mom, Cleo is lost,'” she said.
“He says, ‘Maybe we’ll find her,’ and I said, ‘I hope so, honey.’
“So, this morning, we wake up and she’s been found.
“It took him a while to get it.
“She’s going to get lots of hugs and lots of love from her school friends, her family and the whole community.”