During just two hours, three contrasting scenes played out in Carnarvon, while most West Australians were tucked up in bed, oblivious to the dramatic endgame to Cleo Smith’s captivity.
Police sprung into action at 11.24pm Tuesday night.
Just prior, an unmarked police car had been tailing the vehicle of a man who had assumed sudden and acute importance in the Taskforce Rodia investigation earlier that day.
A new lead in the case had been sufficiently strong for Police Commissioner Chris Dawson to be briefed that night.
By then, undercover eyes were already on the person of interest.
Eye-witness Deane Mitchell said the police swoop escalated quickly.
“It was like a high-speed chase first, there was one car and then (more) police cars,” he said.
Grainy dash-cam footage from a passing taxi captured the moment the car was pulled over on Robinson Street and an officer moved quickly to the driver’s door.
Simultaneously, another unmarked car pulled up in front, obstructing any potential exit.
In seconds, the man now charged with abducting Cleo Smith was pinned to the ground. One witness reported a tussle, but it didn’t take long to get the 36-year-old was in handcuffs.
“We saw one of the detectives on top of the guy pinning him down on the curb … you know really vigorously,” a witness said.
At 12.46am, a decision was made to get inside the Tonkin Crescent home of Terence Darrell Kelly.
The task fell to four officers — Det-Sen. Sgt Cameron Blaine, Det-Sen Const. Kurt Ford, Det-Sgt Jason Hutchinson and Det-Sen Const. Drew Masterson.
The detectives had been patiently waiting for their suspect to “go mobile and leave the premises”, Det-Sen. Sgt Blaine said.
“It was clear in my head what had to occur so it was: ‘OK, let’s do that’.”
Det-Sen Const. Ford recalled of approaching the front door: “I don’t think we really had any expectations going in — we didn’t know what we were going into.
“If anything our expectations weren’t great.”
Police had to smash their way into the locked house and then quickly move into each room. In one, Cleo was sat up, playing with toys.
“I just saw a little girl sitting there and didn’t think about anything else than picking her up,” Det-Sen Const. Ford said.
By now every West Australian will have heard the audio of the moment when an officer declared: “We’ve got her, we’ve got her.”
“I wanted to be absolutely sure (it was Cleo),” Det-Sen. Sgt Blaine said. “It certainly looked like Cleo, I wanted to be absolutely sure it was her.
“I said: ‘What’s your name?’ and she didn’t answer. I said: ‘What’s your name?’ and she didn’t answer again,” he said.
“So I asked her a third time and she looked at me and said: ‘My name is Cleo’, and that was it.”
“You’re all right, bubby,” he told her.
There was more tenderness from the hard-bitten senior detective when he told Cleo she was going to be taken to see her mummy and daddy. She understood and nodded back affirmatively.
Cleo was carried out of the lair to a waiting police car.
“The officer I was with, he called Cleo’s parents and said: ‘We’ve got someone here that wants to speak to you’,” Det-Sen. Sgt Blaine said.
“It was a wonderful feeling to make that call.
“Things developed so quickly, we didn’t have much time to prepare them — we didn’t want to give them any false expectations about what might happen.”
Act Three of the night’s drama was at the local hospital where Cleo was taken for a check-up. There, she was reunited with her parents, Ellie and Jake.
“There were big hugs, kisses and lots of tears,” Det-Sen. Sgt Blaine said.
“To be able to give them that news and tell them to make their way to the hospital … It was an honour to be able to witness that reunion — and have a part in doing it.”