Los Angeles (AP) — Paul Flores was the last person to see with Kristin Smart before disappearing from California’s scenic Central Coast college campus nearly 25 years ago, and has been suspicious ever since. it is continuing.
He went from “interested” to “suspect” to “prime suspect.”
Investigators did not have enough evidence to prosecute Flores for crimes related to her disappearance until Flores was arrested on Tuesday for murder on Smart’s death. His father, Ruben Flores, was arrested as a criminal accessory.
Ian Parkinson, Sheriff of San Luis Obispo County, said he was arrested last month after using ground penetrating radar to search Elder Flores’s home.
“This isn’t over until we bring Christine back (to her family),” Parkinson said.
Stockton’s 19-year-old Smart was last seen on May 25, 1996, when he returned to his dormitory on the California Polytechnic State University campus in San Luis Obispo after an off-campus party. Flores, a freshman at school at the time, offered to walk her house.
The Smart family has issued a statement that it is a long-awaited bittersweet day and the first step in taking their daughter home.
“Christine’s affectionate spirit always lives in our hearts, but our life without her hugs, laughter and smiles is a never-ending heartache,” they said. .. “The knowledge that a father and son have withheld this horrific secret for nearly 25 years and refused to rest their daughter, despite their longing for our help, is a merciless and relentless pain.”
Flores, 44, was arrested at his home in the San Pedro district of Los Angeles and taken to a handcuffed police car in pajamas bottoms and surf T-shirts. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was arrested at his home in Arroyo Grande, about 15 miles (24 km) south of the university. There, a sheriff investigator investigated new evidence.
Paul Flores was suspected from the beginning, but the case gained momentum in the last few years after Parkinson’s disease ordered a thorough review of the evidence and a full-time cold case detective was hired.
According to Parkinson, new witnesses have emerged, and warrants have allowed investigators to intercept and monitor Paul Flores’ phone calls and text messages to search the homes of mothers, fathers and sisters. He refused to provide details because the warrant was sealed.
Parkinson also acknowledged that the podcast “Your Own Backyard” has brought new widespread attention to the incident and the emergence of important witnesses.
Podcast creator Chris Lambert, a musician who grew up in the area, was intrigued by the sign that offers a $ 75,000 reward for information that connects to Smart.
“Driving past the sign regularly reminded me, yes, they haven’t found the girl yet,” Lambert said in a video posted on the podcast website. “It’s different when someone goes missing in your backyard.”
Parkinson held a press conference on the college campus, gesturing over his shoulder to a nearby location where Smart was last seen living with Flores. He admitted that law enforcement failures hindered the investigation.
Smart wasn’t reported missing until three days after she was last seen. A fellow dormitory at the time said police were initially reluctant to report the missing person as she may have left the campus on Memorial Day weekend.
In their statement, the Smart family said, “The indifference and lack of determination we experienced in the early days of setting the course for years.”
The Smart Family filed a $ 40 million lawsuit against Paul Flores in 1996, adding college for failing to protect her daughter. A family spokesman said the case was awaiting the outcome of a criminal case.
The case was initially handled by the CalPoly Police Department and the District Attorney’s Office. Sheriff investigators were not involved until a month later.
“It really doesn’t hide the fact that there was a mistake early on and it became much more difficult,” Parkinson said. “You know that the first 48 hours are very important in a missing person or murder case.”
Parkinson’s disease likened the case to a puzzle where the missing parts were found, leading to new evidence and where to look, which revealed other information.
“Finding each of those small pieces is a very slow process,” he said.
Over the years, they have provided more than 40 warrants in 16 locations, collected nearly 200 new evidence, and tested more than 3 dozen old evidence using the latest DNA technology. He said there was enough evidence to fill 3 terabytes with a computer’s hard drive.
Paul Flores exercised his Fifth Amendment’s right not to answer questions in front of a grand jury and remained a mother for many years in the testimony of the proceedings filed against him. was.
According to Parkinson, Flores had nothing to say when he was arrested.
He was detained without bail. His lawyer, Robert Sanger, declined to comment.
Ruben Flores was released on bail of $ 250,000. His lawyer, Harold Mesic, did not immediately return an email message asking for comment from the Associated Press, but told the Los Angeles Times that his client was “absolutely innocent.”
Investigators executed a new warrant after Flores was arrested at Arroyo Grande’s home. A coroner’s tent was set up outdoors and a radar was used to search the site. When I was looking under a big deck or in the garage, the sounds of power saws and drills rang in the background.
Mayor Arroyo Grande said the arrest provided peace of mind to a city of about 18,000 people, just inland from the scenic Central Coast.
“The disappearance of Christine Smart has always weighed on the hearts of the Arroyo Grande people,” said Mayor Karen Ray Rasom. “She was never forgotten here, and many of us have been closely tracking this case for decades …. these arrests lead to justice and closure of the smart family. I sincerely hope. “
Associated Press reporter John Anchak contributed to this report.