The former classmate of Kristin Smart who was the last person seen with her in 1996 after they left a party was taken into custody Tuesday morning, along with his father, and was arrested on suspicion of murder.
Paul Flores was taken into custody at his home in San Pedro and has been arrested on suspicion of murder, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department said.
Flores' father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, was taken into custody at his San Luis Obispo County home with bail set at $250,000. He was arrested on suspicion of being an accessory.
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Flores' Santa Maria-based attorney, Robert Sanger, confirmed he was informed of his client's arrest but said he had no further comment. He also said he does not represent the suspect's father, Ruben Flores.
John Segale, the Smart family's spokesman, said the family was notified by law enforcement officials that Flores and his father were arrested Tuesday morning.
"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. 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. We now put our faith in the justice system and move forward, comforted in the knowledge that Kristin has been held in the hearts of so many and that she has not been forgotten," the family said in a statement.
Smart was a freshman at Cal Poly when she disappeared in 1996, and was seen leaving an off-campus party with Flores, according to investigators. Flores had long been described as a "prime suspect" by authorities.
In February 2020, search warrants were served in San Pedro, San Luis Obispo County and Washington state, but authorities declined to provide specifics about the nature of the searches.
In 2016, federal investigators dug up a hillside near the Cal Poly San Luis Obispo campus, looking for remains. They also searched the yard of a home.
Smart's family has sued Flores in civil court. He invoked his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination before a grand jury and in a civil deposition.
Sheriff's officials said they monitored Flores' cellphone records as well during the yearslong investigation.
Teams were executing search warrants at both the San Pedro home of Paul Flores and San Luis Obispo County home of his father Tuesday, and had not yet revealed what evidence was found.
Sheriff's officials said new evidence was found that led to the arrests, but wouldn't reveal what that evidence might be.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said a podcast called "Your Own Backyard" produced by Chris Lambert also led to new witness interviews and national attention for the case.
He also conceded that in hindsight, mistakes may have been made early in the investigation.
"We're assembling puzzle. If you've ever done a puzzle there are some missing pieces... It's been a very slow process to find the missing pieces," Parkinson said.
Smart's body has never been found.
"We have not recovered Kristin," Parkinson said.
"It's my hope this is a first step in peace for the family."
The case was being turned over to the district attorney's office to determine exactly which charges Flores would face.
City News Service contributed to this report