The parents of Cleo Smith, the four-year-old Australian girl who went missing for 18 days after being abducted from her family’s tent at a campsite in October last year, have said her doll-obsessed kidnapper still triggers “nightmare after nightmare” each night.
Speaking on 60 Minutes Australia, Cleo’s mother, Ellie, and step-father, Jake Gliddon, gave an emotional retelling of their daughter’s disappearance and the almost three-week wait they endured before she was found by police.
Australian national Terence Darnell Kelly last month pleaded guilty to the crime of abduction during a brief court appearance from a Perth prison in a virtual hearing in Carnarvon. The 36-year-old could face a potential sentence of up to 20 years in prison.
During the interview, Cleo’s parents – whose appearance on the show cost the network a record-breaking $2million (£1million) – explained how the kidnapper’s home was full of children’s dolls.
According to a report, Mr Kelly is a recluse who frequently posts on social media about his vast collection of toys.
He was also an active member of online communities dedicated to Bratz dolls, it suggested.
“Obviously, like, that’s what he wanted. He wanted a little doll. It was nothing that I ever want anyone to feel,” Cleo’s mother said.
According to Mrs Smith, the four-year-old still wakes up screaming as she suffers “nightmare after nightmare” since being snatched.
The kidnapper allegedly followed the global media search for Cleo as she remained locked in a room in Kelly’s home.
“It’s so heartless. I was begging for my daughter, and here was someone who was reading me begging for her back. That’s just disgusting,” Mrs Smith said.
“[Cleo] told us that she was scared. She was locked — locked in a room, and she was scared, and she didn’t know where we were.”
The parents say they still do not know the “full story” of what happened as Cleo appears to be repressing a number of the traumatic events inflicted on her in the 18 days she was missing.
“She has blocked out a lot as to what’s happened. She went into survivor mode and pushed it very far away,” said Mrs Smith.
She added: “Every day is a new day. Yeah, every day and night is different. But she’s okay. She’s happy, she’s bubbly. She’s sad, she’s angry — but she’s getting there.”
In the early hours of 3 November, Mrs Smith received a phone call from police to say Cleo had been found.
“I was asleep when the phone call came through and I was like, “this is either good or bad”.” Mrs Smith said.
“I’ve answered it and straight away [the police officer said], “I’ve got someone who wants to say hello to you”, and I was swearing, I was like, “oh my God, no way”.
“Cleo got onto the phone and she’s like, “hi mummy”, and I was like, “hi baby”.’
Speaking of the moment she saw her daughter the morning after her rescue, her mother said: “That was such a beautiful moment just to see her as the old Cleo, but you could still see, for us … she’s still different and she always will be and that’s just our life now.
“As a parent, you want to … make sure that they stay as a child for as long as they can because you don’t want them to be in this big, bad world, and she lost that, that was taken from her.”
She added: “Her emotions are very up and down .. she’s blocked out a lot as to what’s happened, she kind of went into survivor mode and pushed it very far away.
“We’ve got a long way to go and so does she, she’s probably going to have to be dealing with this for the rest of her life and we’re going to eventually have to find out everything that’s happened and we’re going to have to carry that as well.”
Mr Kelly’s next hearing in the case is scheduled for 20 March at a western Australian state district court in Perth.