Police have been careful to avoid giving the devastated family of Cleo Smith false hope that she will come home safely as the search for the little girl enters its third week.
A close friend of Cleo’s mother Ellie and stepfather Jake Gliddon, who helped search for the missing four-year-old in the nightmarish days after her suspected abduction, said investigators were realistic about their chances of the search having a happy ending.
“There’s nothing worse than saying, ‘We’re going to find her’, or, ‘We think we’ve got the person’, and then they don’t have the person or they don’t find her,” he said.
“And then you’re left there questioning everything.”
But he said police remained confident.
“Police aren’t going to give you false hope and that’s what we said from day one,” he said.
The friend, who was at the Blowholes just an hour after Ellie woke to discover Cleo and her sleeping bag were both missing from their tent, said online abuse and suspicion directed at the heartbroken couple from internet trolls had taken a heavy toll.
“I know it’s affecting them. Fingers crossed they aren’t looking at it too much,” he said. “Even with just close family and friends, it’s affecting us. You read it, and just break down.
“The worst part about it is you go on to (the trolls’) profiles, and they have kids of their own.
“Imagine if you lost your kid and everyone accused you of that. You’d feel pretty s**t. It’s pretty hurtful what these trolls are doing, but they just don’t get it. I don’t know what goes through their heads.
“Ellie and Jake are traumatised and broken and over it.”
Armchair detectives should step back, he said.
“Everyone handles trauma differently. Jake and Ellie will handle it how they do,” the man said.
“It’s not like you get a book of guidelines on how to react in this situation. I don’t know what the people trolling think they’re achieving by doing this. Getting attention or a reaction? It’s a pretty s***y thing to do.”
Once beloved by Carnarvon families as a safe, idyllic holiday haven, the Blowholes has been stained by the saga.
“I don’t know if there will ever be that trust at the Blowholes again, like there used to be. There’s now just this big grey cloud over it,” he said.
He said while Cleo’s disappearance had shaken Carnarvon, it had also brought the community together.
Rio Tinto, where Mr Gliddon works, provided searchers with food and drinks and allowed workers time off to look for Cleo, while helicopter hire companies spent hours searching from the sky.
“It’s a pretty tragic series of events, but also shows exactly what this town is,” the friend said.