Every now and then you find yourself in the middle of a story, and wonder how the hell you got there.
Like everyone else, I felt the terror rip through me when I first heard about little missing Cleo. I’ve got a 4-year-old child. So, like so many other parents, I imagined how that heartache felt. I sat around with friends and pondered theories. I lost sleep listening to the winds at night, wondering if she was out there somewhere.
So when I found myself face to face with Cleo’s mum Ellie, and stepdad Jake, my emotions were high.
It was 5:30am Monday morning, I checked in at Perth airport surrounded by a sea of fluoro shirts. As we all congregated in the departures lounge, I waited with my team to board a plane that would take us to the epicentre of one of the biggest mysteries in the country. What happened to Cleo, who took her and where is she now?
I know there’s a pocket of society that might think the media are cold and heartless, perhaps we’ve done things over the years to earn that dishonourable badge. But I can tell you, every journalist, every camera operator, every producer I’ve spoken to about little Cleo, is as heartbroken and emotionally affected as the rest of the country.
In Carnarvon, Ellie and Jake agreed to meet me ahead of our pre-planned interview for Channel 7. When I walked into our meeting place to greet them, I wasn’t sure what was appropriate. To them I was a complete stranger. To me, they were people I felt I knew. I’d seen them on the news for more than a week now.
I wanted to give Ellie a big hug and explain that as a mum I felt her pain. But then I realised how ridiculous that was – I can’t feel her pain, I have no idea what that pain feels like. And frankly I hope I never do.
So instead I shook her hand, then shook Jake’s. We sat down and talked. Our meeting was strictly off the record and I’m not going to breach their trust by writing about what was said. There were 4 people in that room, and we discussed the interview that would soon follow.
Not long after that meeting, Ellie and Jake made their way to our interview location. We placed microphones on them, and they walked in to sit in front of the rolling cameras.
You saw the interview on Channel 7’s Flashpoint that night, and you experienced the rawness that we felt in that room.
After their plea had been recorded and the cameras were switched off, I walked out with Ellie and Jake and for a moment was speechless. I tried to find the words to say, “I hope they find her, I hope your plea for information helps, I’m sorry this has happened to you, and my heart is broken for you”. But instead, I gave her a massive hug, and said something like “I think what you just did was really brave, good luck”. To be honest, I don’t think it mattered what I said, the whole experience was probably such a blur for her anyway.
That night, I was out at the Blowholes, recording Flashpoint’s live program. We were there til about 10pm. It was dark. It was so windy I could barely distinguish the noise of the thumping ocean from the howling wind. The area is so exposed and open there’s no shelter from it. It was freezing cold, and it was eerie. I looked around at the scrub, the tyre tracks, the wilderness and thought – there’s no way my 4-year-old would willingly walk into this.
I’m not afraid to say that when I got home from Carnarvon, I hugged my kids tighter. Gave them a few extra kisses before bedtime. Then laid on my bed, and shed a few tears for Cleo, and for Ellie and Jake.
I hope they find answers, I know the police up there are throwing everything at it. I hope this is one of those stories that ends in a miracle, and Cleo is found alive. I hope it happens today. If you know anything call Crimestoppers.