Kristin Smart’s family spent nearly 25 years tracking her killer. Now they hope to bring her home

Kristin Smart.
Kristin Smart, a 19-year-old Cal Poly San Luis Obispo freshman, was last seen May 25, 1996.
(Handout photo)

For nearly 25 years, the family of Kristin Smart worked to bring justice to the Cal Poly student.

They immediately took an active role when she first went missing on the campus in 1996 and over the years held countless news conferences and went to court on behalf of Smart. They were open about the fact that they believed the longtime suspect, Paul Flores, killed Smart and at one point even sued in civil court.

Then on Tuesday, the news they’d been waiting for finally occurred. San Luis Obispo County authorities arrested Flores, along with his father, in connection with Smart’s slaying.

Paul Flores, long described as a ‘prime suspect,’ was taken into custody by San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s officials


In a statement, the family called it a “bittersweet day,” adding they hoped it marked “the first step to bringing our daughter home.”

“We honor Kristin today and those who worked with unparalleled tenacity and dedication to bring us to this day,” they said in the statement. “Without Kristin in our life, there will never be justice, but we will pray for peace. Unfortunately, the indifference and lack of resolve we experienced early on set the course for many years.”

San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the arrests did not mark the end of his agency’s work.

“As you can imagine, until we return Kristin to them, this is not over,” he said. “We have committed to them that we are not going to stop until Kristin has been recovered, no matter what the cost, no matter what the time.”

One warm Friday night in late spring 10 years ago, Kristin Denise Smart and three other young women started walking from their dorms at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Smart was a 19-year-old freshman when she vanished on Memorial Day weekend of 1996. She had gone to an off-campus party and was making the roughly 10-minute walk back to her dormitory with two other students when, the students later told police, Flores appeared and promised to see her back to her room.

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Smart was never seen again.

Flores and his family have steadfastly maintained his innocence. Last month, Flores’ mother reiterated the claim, telling a television reporter, “We have no responsibility for her disappearance and what happened to that young woman.”

From the start, investigators zeroed in on Paul Flores. Like Smart, he was 19 and in his freshman year. Classmates described him as awkward and unpopular. Five months before Smart disappeared, a female student called the police and reported that Flores, apparently drunk, had climbed onto her balcony and refused to leave.

In interviews, Flores told investigators he had walked Smart to her dormitory and then returned to his room. He explained a black eye first by saying he had been elbowed in a pickup basketball game, then admitted he had lied and said he’d hit himself while working on a truck at his father’s home.

Despite numerous investigations, searches and legal procedures, it took 24 years for an arrest to be made in the disappearance of Kristin Smart.

Flores, 44, was arrested at his San Pedro home on suspicion of murder. His father, Ruben Ricardo Flores, 80, was also arrested and is accused of helping his son dispose of Smart’s remains.

The family had been front and center in trying to focus attention on the case, even as the trail went cold. They maintained billboards on the 101 Freeway and frequently talked to the press in hopes of getting the case solved.

“You live because you can’t give up,” mother Denise Smart told the Stockton Record in 2008. “Because it’s not just a battle to find your daughter. It’s a battle to have the right thing done. It’s a battle to have people do their job.”

The arrest comes nearly 25 years after Smart vanished while walking back to her dorm at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

In their statement, the Smart family criticized the early investigation into her death but praised the current sheriff for his work as well as a podcast that focused attention on the case.

“To HEAL, we must REMEMBER not only Kristin but also every heart that carried Kristin and our family in theirs! Kristin’s story is ultimately one of unwavering commitment, resilience and immense gratitude,” the family wrote.

As for the Floreses, they said: “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.”