Kristin Smart Case: Two Men Are Arrested in 1996 Disappearance

Ms. Smart was 19 and a college student in San Luis Obispo, Calif., when she vanished while walking to her dorm from an off-campus party.,

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Two men have been arrested in connection with the disappearance 25 years ago of the California college student Kristin Smart, the authorities said on Tuesday.

Paul Flores, who was the last person to see Ms. Smart on the day she disappeared in May 1996 and whom the authorities had declared in recent months to be a “prime suspect” in the case, was taken into custody at his home in San Pedro, Calif., on Tuesday, Ian Parkinson, the San Luis Obispo County sheriff, said at a news conference.

“This is where it all began, on the campus of California Polytechnic State University,” Sheriff Parkinson said at the conference, adding “this was the last place that Kristin Smart was seen alive.”

Mr. Flores was booked at the San Luis Obispo County jail on a murder charge, according to jail record He is being held without bail, the sheriff said.

His father, Ruben Flores, was arrested at his home in Arroyo Grande, Calif., Sheriff Parkinson said. The Tribune of San Luis Obispo reported that sheriff’s deputies searched his home on Tuesday morning, drawing a crowd of onlookers. The sheriff said that the search warrants were sealed and that he could not discuss what evidence was found.

“We have not recovered Kristin,” he said. “We will continue to focus on finding her remains.”

Sheriff Parkinson said the case had been turned over to the district attorney’s office.

Harold Mesick, a lawyer for Ruben Flores, declined to comment on Tuesday but confirmed that his client had been arrested and charged with accessory after the fact. Ruben Flores, 80, was booked into the San Luis Obispo County jail on a $250,000 bond, according to jail records.

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Kristin Smart was a student at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, when she disappeared in May 1996.Credit…FBI, via Associated Press

Ms. Smart, 19, was a student at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo when she vanished as she was walking back to her dorm room from an off-campus party on May 25, 1996.

Paul Flores, 44, who was a Cal Poly student at the time, has denied being involved in her disappearance, but after previously describing him as a person of interest in their investigation, the Sheriff’s Office began to refer to him in recent months as a “prime suspect” in the case.

In March, the Sheriff’s Office said it had obtained a warrant to search for evidence at Ruben Flores’s residence, and they used cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar to canvass the property.

Robert Sanger, a lawyer for Paul Flores, declined to comment on Tuesday. John Segale, a representative for the Smart family, said the family would release a statement after the Sheriff’s Office announced the charges on Tuesday afternoon.

Jeffrey D. Armstrong, president of the university, said on Tuesday that the news of the arrests “brings sadness but also a measure of relief and hope for resolution.”

The authorities had previously searched the homes of both Ruben Flores and Paul Flores. In February 2020, investigators executed search warrants at four locations in California and Washington State and recovered “some items of interest,” Tony Cipolla, a spokesman for the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office, said at the time.

The authorities also said that they had seized as evidence two trucks that belonged to members of the Flores family in 1996, and that 37 pieces of evidence collected after Ms. Smart’s disappearance had been submitted for modern DNA testing.

After Ms. Smart disappeared, her family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Paul Flores, who the authorities said had told them that he walked her only as far as his dorm, where they parted ways.

In February, he was arrested by the police in Los Angeles on a charge of firearms possession by a felon, according to jail records. His bail was set at $35,000. He had previously been convicted of driving under the influence, according to public records.

Ms. Smart’s family had her declared legally dead in 2002. The circumstances surrounding her disappearance continued to draw national attention in the decades since she was last seen alive, with the CBS true-crime show “48 Hours” dedicating an episode to the case in November.

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