The “prime suspect” at the 25-year-disappearance of California college student Kristin Smart was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of murder, the San Luis Obispo Sheriff’s Department announced.

Paul Flores, 44, the last person seen with Smart before she vanished in 1996, was taken into custody in the Los Angeles region. His father, Ruben Flores, 80, was also arrested at his Arroyo Grande home.

In 2011, “I asked a complete review of all the physical evidence that had ever been taken in the [Smart] case, ” said San Luis Obispo County SheriffIan Parkinson in a news conference. “In late 2016, we discovered additional evidence that confirmed that Paul was the suspect in the disappearance. “

Paul Flores has been booked on the charge of murder with zero bail, said Parkinson. His arraignment will be Thursday. Ruben Flores was arrested on accessory to murder with a bond of $250,000, and his arraignment will depend on whether he will post bail.  

Smart, 19, of Stockton, California, vanished in May 1996 while returning to her dorm at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo following a party. She had been seen with Paul Flores, who was a student at the time.

Smart’s body has not yet been recovered by police, but physical evidence linked to her has been recovered, according to authorities.

“We aren’t going to stop until Kristen has been recovered no matter what the cost, regardless of what the moment, ” Parkinson said.  ” We will find Kristen. “

Related :Family of Kristin Smart, who went missing in 1996, says there’s no news coming soon

A spokesman for the intelligent family issued a statement, saying the  afternoon  was “bittersweet. “

“ it’s impossible to put into words what this day means for our family.We pray it’s the first step to bringing our daughter home, the statement said. “While Kristin’s loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life with no hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates. ”

Tuesday’s announcement comes about a month after the sheriff called Paul Flores as the prime suspect in the case. Investigators searched his fathers home and property using ground-penetrating radar and cadaver dogs.

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Investigators served another search warrant Tuesday in Ruben Flores’ home, about 15 miles south of the University on California’s Central Coast, KSBY-TV reported.

Over 40 search warrants were executed at 16 locations through time, based on Parkinson. So much evidence had been compiled that it would fill three terabytes on a computer hard drive, Parkinson estimated.

New evidence came to light at least partly through the podcast “Your Own Backyard,” an eight-part series detailing the intelligent case. It’s renewed and brought interest in the case locally, nationally and internationally, Parkinson said.  

Shortly after the release of “Your Own Backyard” in 2019, police interviewed several witnesses connected to the podcast.  

“I think what Chris [Lambert] did with his podcast was, he took a local story that was normally locally, and he expanded into a national story global, actually, I will say, because once that message got out, we started getting more information, ” Parkinson said, referring to the podcast.

He added that the information produced was “valuable” and contributed to new evidence which enabled detectives to secure a court order to intercept Flores’calls and text messages.

Contributing: The Associated Press

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