‘Prime suspect’ arrested in California college student Kristin Smart’s 1996 disappearance

Kristin Smart was a student at California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo when she vanished while walking home from a party in 1996

In a news conference from the university, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the department arrested Paul Flores, 44, for allegedly murdering Smart as well as his father, Ruben Ricardo Flores, 80, on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact.

Although Flores had always been a suspect, Parkinson said no arrests had been made because law enforcement can't arrest someone based on "what we might believe, it has to be based on physical evidence".

Search warrants were served past year on Paul's home in the San Pedro area of Los Angeles, and at other locations in California and Washington state.

His father, Ruben Flores, was also taken into custody at his home in Arroyo Grande this morning on an accessory charge.

In late 2016, investigators discovered additional evidence which confirmed Paul Flores was a suspect in the disappearance of Smart. Their cases have since been turned over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office for review.

A spokesman for the Smart family said this was "an extremely emotional day".

Smart, 19, of Stockton, was last seen May 25, 1996, while returning to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University campus in San Luis Obispo after an off-campus party.

May 25, 2021, marks 25 years since Kristin's disappearance. She was walking back to her to her dorm room from an off-campus party while accompanied by a fellow student (Flores). While her body has never been found, she was declared legally dead on May 25, 2002.

Early one Saturday morning almost 25 years ago, Kristin Smart left a college party near the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus and never returned to her dormitory.

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San Luis Obispo jail records showed Paul Flores was booked on a murder charge.

The Smart family released a preliminary statement on Tuesday.

Last month, after refusing to speak with reporters for years, Susan Flores told a local television station she was exhausted of the enduring "harassment" by detectives who had treated her son as a "scapegoat".

Parkinson also credited the podcast "Your Own Backyard" for giving the case renewed widespread attention that led to a key witness coming forward.

In 2019, detectives interviewed a new witness in the case.

Since Parkinson took office in 2011, investigators conducted 137 interviews, served 41 search warrants and collected 143 items.

Smart's family said in their statement that "an indifference and lack of resolve we experienced early on set the course for many years".

Parkinson said over 40 search warrants had been executed at 16 locations over the years and so much evidence had been compiled that it would fill three terabytes on a computer hard drive.

After speaking with investigators in the weeks after Smart's disappearance, Paul Flores refused to discuss the case when he was called to testify before a grand jury and again later in a deposition for a civil suit brought by Smart's family. The sound of power saws and drills whined in the background as they searched under a large deck and in the garage.

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