Man sentenced for abducting girl from family’s tent at remote Australian campsite

Brisbane, AustraliaCNN — 

A man who admitted abducting a four-year-old girl from a remote campsite in Western Australia and holding her for 18 days during a massive police search has been sentenced to 13 years and 6 months in prison.

Terence Kelly, 37, pleaded guilty to abducting Cleo Smith from the tent she was sharing with her family in the early hours of October 16, 2021, and was sentenced Wednesday in Perth’s District Court.

Cleo’s disappearance triggered a police hunt that covered several square kilometers around the site and was later extended nationwide, as the state government offered a reward of one million Australian dollars ($676,000) for information leading to her location.

For more than two weeks, police amassed evidence, including interviews, security video footage, phone data and calls from hundreds of people offering information as her distraught parents made desperate appeals for help to find her.

Eventually the information pointed to a single-story house in the coastal town of Carnarvon, about 73 kilometers (45 miles) south of the campsite where she went missing.

Four officers entered the house, not far from the family’s own home, just after midnight on November 3, 2021, where they found Cleo alone in a bedroom.

During the sentencing hearing, the court was told Kelly went to the campsite looking for things to steal, but when he entered the family’s tent and saw the sleeping child he decided to “steal her.”

At the time, Cleo was sleeping within meters of her mother, stepfather and baby sister, near the door of the zipped tent, draped in a sleeping bag.

The court heard Kelly quietly gathered the child and the sleeping bag and drove her in his car to his home.

Chief Judge Julie Wager said Kelly’s actions were at the “highest level of seriousness.”

“This isn’t a case of luring a child away … but the taking of a little four-year-old girl from the zipped-up family tent in the middle of the night when her parents assumed she was safe is even more concerning,” she said.

The court heard Kelly was aware of the huge police search for Cleo, but went about his “usual business,” regularly leaving the child alone in a room that locked from the outside.

Cleo repeatedly pleaded for her parents, the court heard, especially her mother, but Kelly turned up the radio so the neighbors wouldn’t hear any noises she made.

At one stage, Cleo heard her name on the radio and said, “They’re saying my name,” the court heard.

Addressing Kelly, Wager said: “You were aware of this and, at an early stage, aware that the authorities were looking for her.”

Kelly is eligible for parole two years before the end of his sentence, which was reduced because he pleaded guilty early, sparing Cleo and her family the trauma of testifying at trial, the judge said.

Back in November 2021, the girl’s discovery after such an extensive search was celebrated by the police officers who found her.

“To see her sitting there in the way that she was, was incredible,” Detective Senior Sergeant Cameron Blaine told reporters the day she was found.

“I just wanted to be absolutely sure it was her, so I said, ‘What’s your name?’” he said.

She said: “My name is Cleo,” according to police, who filmed the moment on bodycam.

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