April 13 (UPI) -- Police in California arrested two people Tuesday in connection with the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly University student Kristin Smart.
In a news conference from the university, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson said the department arrested Paul Flores, 44, for allegedly murdering Smart as well as his father, Ruben Ricardo Flores, 80, on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact. Their cases have since been turned over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office for review.
"This is where it all began on the campus of Cal Poly University," Parkinson said. "Twenty-four years without a resolution. Until today."
A 19-year-old Smart was last seen leaving a house party with the younger Flores on Memorial Day weekend in 1996.
Her body was never found despite an extensive search effort including K-9 units, helicopters and ground-penetrating radar. Authorities declared her dead in 2002.
Parkinson on Tuesday said he believes law enforcement is now closer to recovering Smart's body, but added that "only time will tell."
"It's safe to say we are checking everywhere possible," he said.
Although Flores had long been a suspect, Parkinson said no arrests had been made because law enforcement can't arrest someone based on "what we might believe, it has to be based on physical evidence."
He said the department was able to interview multiple new witnesses in 2019, in part due to information featured in the "Your Own Backyard" podcast and that the department found physical evidence from at least two homes.
Parkinson did not clarify exactly what the evidence was but said police "believe it's linked to Krisitn."
The sheriff's office served four search warrants for specific items of evidence related to Smith's disappearance last year, including two in San Luis Obispo County, one in Los Angeles County and one in Washington.
In 2016, San Luis Obispo County authorities said they found "items of interest" while digging at three excavation sites in central California after a new lead suggested she may be buried there.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong thanked the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Office for their work securing the arrests.
"Our Cal Poly and Central Coast communities have watched the case of Kristen Smart's disappearance closely and hoped for justice for Kristin and resolution for the family for years," Armstrong said. "The news today of arrests in connection with the case brings sadness, but also a measure of relief and hope for resolution."