Watch CBS News

Two men arrested in 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart

2 suspects arrested in Kristin Smart disappearance
2 suspects arrested in 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart 00:27

Two men have been arrested in connection with the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart, authorities said Tuesday. Paul Flores, 44, was taken into custody and charged with murder. No bail has been set.

Investigators have not yet discovered Smart's body but they remain hopeful, said Sheriff Ian Parkinson of San Luis Obispo County. "I believe we will find Kristin," he said. "We will continue to focus on finding her remains regardless of any court action."

On May 24, 1996, Smart was 19 when she disappeared while returning to a dorm at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. Flores, who had been considered a prime suspect, was also a student at the school.

His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was also arrested Tuesday and booked on suspicion of accessory and faces a $250,000 bail, Parkinson said.

Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old freshman at California Polytechnic State University, had gone to a party on Friday, May 24, 1996 — and has not been seen since.   Handout via Carla Hoffman

"The news today of arrests in connection with the case brings sadness, but also a measure of release and hope for a resolution," Cal Poly President Jeff Armstrong said Tuesday. "While we know that today's developments do not represent the end of the case, it is a significant step."

Parkinson said Tuesday that the search warrants were sealed and details of the evidence that led to the two arrests couldn't be revealed.

Earlier Tuesday, a representative for the Smart family called it "an extremely emotional day." After the press conference, a family spokesman issued a statement to CBS News.

"For over twenty-four years, we have waited for this bittersweet day. It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family; we pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home," the statement said. "While Kristin's loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates.

"The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain," the statement said.

Last year, a student who was with Smart before her disappearance said that the pair separated because Smart wanted to stay out and she wanted to go home. "To this day, I was like, why — why did I just let her go by herself?" Margarita Campos told CBS News' "48 Hours."

Parkinson said that over the course of the Smart investigation, there were more than 141 search warrants issued and the discovery of more than 200 pieces of evidence.

Paul Flores and his father, Ruben, seen in booking photos on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office

CBS Los Angeles reported that in February 2020, and again in April of 2020, detectives raided Paul Flores' home in San Pedro, some 25 miles south of LA. The station also said Flores was arrested in February 2021 on an unrelated weapons charge and was released on bail at the time.

In mid-March, authorities served a search warrant at the San Luis Obispo County home of Paul's father, using cadaver dogs and ground penetrating radar, per CBS LA.

Paul Flores is scheduled to be arraigned on Thursday.

2 men arrested in 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly student Kristin Smart 12:46
View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.