West Australian Premier Mark McGowan has announced a A$1 million reward to anyone who has information that can help authorities find Cleo Smith.
It has been six days since the 4-year-old disappeared from her family's tent — and police have admitted there are few leads, no suspects and no sign of where she went.
"It is a sad situation and very difficult situation. Naturally, our thoughts go to everyone involved, especially the family and friends of Cleo. We have ensured that we have delivered all the resources that police have requested in relation to this case. Police are looking around the clock to try and find Cleo right now," McGowan told reporters.
"We're going to offer a A$1 million reward to anyone who provides information that leads us to finding Cleo. They will hopefully allow us to help discover the location of Cleo as soon as possible.
"I urge anyone who has any knowledge of the location of Cleo, please provide that information to police and ensure that we can provide some certainty and information to Cleo's loved ones. And hopefully bring Cleo back safe and sound."
Deputy Police Commissioner Col Blanch said the reward "is a significant step towards establishment of finding where Cleo is".
"The cooperation of the community is what we are urgently seeking. I ask the community, if you see anything, if you have seen anything or you know anything, please call Crime Stoppers or walk into any police station across Australia," he added.
"Someone in our community knows what happened to Cleo. Someone has the knowledge that can help. Now there's a million reasons why you need to come forward."
More than 100 police personnel, army reserves and volunteers are currently involved in an "extensive land, sea and air search".
Detective Superintendent Rod Wilde said authorities remain "hopeful that we will find Cleo alive".
"But we hold great fears for her safety. The information we have received, we have not been able to locate her, we imagine we would locate her given the amount of resources and the detailed search that is taking place, that leads us to believe that she was taken from [the campsite]," he said.
Asked whether he thought Cleo had been taken by someone not known to her, he said that police are keeping "an open mind in relation to that and look at all those responsibilities".
Commissioner Blanch said "the likelihood of [Cleo] being taken and removed from the area" is now higher.
Despite a large amount of information collected, all the local registered sex offenders being identified and spoken to, all of the known nearby campers being interviewed and Cleo's biological dad being questioned, the investigation has come to a standstill.
The next desperate step is to try and trace any missing CCTV and dashcam footage taken from the area — which could potentially help police find people at the campsite they don't already know about.
"That's why we're asking anybody that was in this vicinity, anybody who was travelling around these roads, if they've got any CCTV, dashcam footage or any intelligence, any information, would need to contact us," Inspector Jon Munday told reporters.
"That's primarily for that reason, to find out who was here."
The police investigation is still pursuing both a search and criminal probe — but a new piece of information released yesterday suggests the police may be looking at a potential abduction.
Detectives said Cleo could not have opened the zipper herself.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Inspector Munday said Cleo was too short to reach the zipper on her tent on her own on the morning she went missing.
It all but rules out the theory that the little girl left the tent alone on Saturday morning, hours before she was discovered missing. Cleo hasn't been seen since about 1.30am that day.
"The tent certainly has multiple entries," Inspector Munday said.
"One of the major circumstances that has given us the cause for alarm for Cleo's safety is the fact that one of those zippered entryways was opened.
"The positioning of that zipper for the flap is one of the circumstances that has caused us to have grave concerns for Cleo's safety."
Inspector Munday said police had no suspects but were looking into and speaking to registered sex offenders in the area.
"This operation is the most important operation to WA Police, if not nationally."
The revelation came as a child exploitation investigator who helped in the early phases of the search for Madeleine McCann divulged that child victims of abduction typically get killed within three to six hours of being stolen.
Dr Graham Hill, founder of Behaviour Analysis at the UK Child Exploitation Online Protection centre (CEOP), told The West on Wednesday that children were typically "harmed by people that know them".
"And most children that are abducted by someone who doesn't know them, if they're going to be killed, are dead quite quickly," he told the publication.
Dr Hill added that generally speaking, parents of victims were the first people police needed to "eliminate the suspicion around" before pursuing other lines of inquiry.
"As difficult as that is when parents have a missing child, you have to do it, because statistically we know that children get hurt by people that know them. And also, you have to eliminate the suspicion around the parents before you can move on and do other lines of inquiry," he said.
Screeching car tyres investigated
Assistant Commissioner Darryl Gaunt also confirmed on Wednesday investigators were looking into a camper's report that a car was heard screeching about 3am, shortly after Cleo was last seen.
The 4-year-old woke for a drink of water at 1.30am and was gone from the campsite, north of Carnarvon in Western Australia, when her mum Ellie Smith got up at 6am.
Gaunt said that car screeching was one of several reports received from people in the area who noticed odd activities and noises overnight.
Without expanding further, he confirmed police were not in a position to exclusively rule the car tyre noises in or out as a crucial part of the investigation.
"It's a little bit unsubstantiated but we're not ruling it out," he said.
He said of the reports of odd sounds and activities, police had "investigated and responded to the vast majority" and had been able to explain "most of them".
Gaunt added that more resources had been deployed into investigating Cleo's possible abduction as the "forecast going forward gets worse each day".
While search and rescue operations had run parallel to a criminal investigation from the outset, Gaunt said investigators' efforts had ramped up in recent days.
"That was because the circumstances around this were quite unique. The lack of information, the terrain, the weather conditions, the location, all of things gave us far more questions than we could give answers to," he said.
Gaunt said police were not exclusively treating Cleo's disappearance as an abduction.
"To say we're treating it as an abduction is not correct. We're treating it as a search and rescue first and foremost, and that remains our mission," he said.
More resources were, however, being put into the investigative side of the case.
"We are putting more resources into that area, because obviously as time goes on the forecast gets worse each day."
Gaunt said that despite being several days into a broad-scale search, no evidence had yet suggested Cleo had gone missing on her own volition or someone else's.
"At this stage we're not really finding much that tends to give us an impression one way or the other as to what's happened," he said.
All of the beach shacks had been thoroughly searched on the inside, outside and underneath, along with every piece of infrastructure in the surrounding area and coastline.
Some of the shacks, Gaunt said, would be revisisted for additional searches.
Worst case scenario' investigated
Police are now focusing on the "worst case scenario" in the hunt for Cleo, as her shocked parents revealed the 4-year-old had been sleeping next to her baby sister before she disappeared from the family's tent.
Police said there were a "lot of people" circulating the campsite at the time and Cleo's parents on Tuesday revealed horrifying details about the moment they realised she was gone.
The 4-year-old was last seen about 1.30am on Saturday near the Blowholes campsite north of Carnarvon in Western Australia before she vanished.
Cleo's mother Ellie Smith said she had woken around 6am on Saturday to find their tent zipper was nearly completely open and her 4-year-old nowhere to be seen.
She revealed Cleo had been sleeping in a separate area of the tent with her baby sister.
Police have bolstered their investigation of the "worst case scenario" – that little Cleo was abducted from the tent while her family were sleeping.
They have also begun looking into the possibility she has been taken interstate.
Inspector Munday said Cleo could "potentially be anywhere now" given five days have passed since she was last seen.
"We can't rule out the fact that Cleo may be still in the area, we can't rule out the fact she's left the area and if she's left the area, that is probably our worst case scenario because that really paints a sinister picture with what's happened," he said.
"It is a race against time. We're just trying to find answers."
The entire area where Cleo vanished has been declared a potential crime scene, with the campsite closed and investigators imploring anyone who has been in the area to come forward.
Inspector Munday said the case was "a mystery we're trying to unravel", as he revealed "quite a lot of people" had been staying at the Blowholes campground that night.
"We're tracking and tracing all of those people at the moment, but there's also nothing to indicate that there's any cause for the wider community to be alarmed," Inspector Munday said.
Police have also been searching a number of shacks along the coast near the campsite which are occupied by long-term residents.
"You'd have to have reason to be there," a police source told PerthNow. "It's a destination — not a place you'd just pass through to go somewhere else.
"It's not like a little town where you'd stop for a pie and petrol and then keep going."
The night Cleo vanished
On Tuesday, Cleo's distraught mother Ellie Smith and her partner, Jake Gliddon, spoke publicly about the disappearance for the first time since posting about it on social media over the weekend.
They gave more chilling details about the night Cleo vanished.
Smith said Cleo would never wander off and would have asked for help to unzip her one-piece sleeping suit if she needed to use the toilet.
"She's lazy when it comes to walking," Smith said.
"She would never leave that tent alone."
Asked if they feared someone had taken Cleo, Smith said the family was still hoping to find her.
Smith said someone had to know where Cleo was.
"Someone has to — it's been four days," she said.
The last time Smith saw her daughter was at 1.30am on Saturday when Cleo woke up to ask for water.
"I got her some water and she went to bed," Smith said.
Cleo was sleeping beside her younger sister Isla who was in a cot, while Smith and her partner slept on a mattress in a room next to them.
"I checked on Isla, made sure Isla was okay. I got back in bed and that was it really," Smith said.
"We went back to sleep. [I later] woke up to Isla wanting a bottle.
"As we passed the divider, I went into the other room and the zipper was open.
"Cleo was gone and that was about it for Saturday morning until everything started."
Smith said Cleo's sleeping bag was also missing.
"She was gone. The tent was completely open. It was about 30cm from being open," Smith said.
"I turned to Jake and said: 'Cleo's gone.'
"We went looking, checking, making sure she wasn't around the tent.
"Then we got in the car and started driving around everywhere."
Smith said she was very familiar with the area.
"We literally grew up probably like 100m from literally where our tent was — that was where we stayed at the same age. So we just looked everywhere that we went as kids and we couldn't find her," she said.
"Then we realised we have to call the cops because she's not here."
Smith described what was going through her mind at the time: "Where is she? She needs breakfast. What is she doing? Everything was going through my head."
An emotional Smith described her ongoing anguish.
"We haven't really slept. We've had so much family help us and support us," she said.
"Everyone asks us what do you need and really all we need is our little girl home."
Smith said she did not know what happened to Cleo but she wished she did.
"No idea. There's probably a million things that I've thought of … they're searching every angle that we probably have thought of," she said.
"The worst part is, we can't do anything more. It's out of our hands so we feel hopeless and out of control.
"We sit and watch the sand dunes and think she's going to run down it and back into our arms, but we're still waiting."
Smith, who works at a beauty salon, described her daughter as beautiful, delicate and funny, with "the biggest heart".
She also said Cleo loves make-up and collecting rocks.
"Every day she wants to wear a princess dress," Smith said.
"She's so sweet. She's everything that you'd want in a little girl."
Although Cleo was "terrified of the ocean", Smith said the family had brought Cleo's bike so she could learn to ride without training wheels.
"Cleo was born eight weeks early, she was premature and she's been strong from the day she was born, so I know she can get through whatever she's going through," Smith said.
Wild weather hindered the search on Tuesday morning, but by midday local time the operation was back on track.
Mounted police joined the frantic search for Cleo, which has already included expert trackers, State Emergency Service personnel, detectives from the major crime and homicide squads, volunteers and a tourist helicopter business.
WA Police have also asked agencies in other jurisdictions across the country to spread the word, taking the search nationwide.
A GoFundMe page has been set up by local man Bill Kent to help Cleo's family and the search efforts, so far raising more than $48,000.
Anyone with information is urged to call police.
Anyone who passed through the area between Friday and Sunday is also urged to come forward, especially if they have dashcam footage.
– with NCA NewsWire