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A San Pedro man who has long been considered a person of interest in the 1996 disappearance of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart was arrested on suspicion of murder in her death, authorities announced Tuesday.

Paul Flores, 44, was taken into custody in San Pedro and booked into a San Luis Obispo County jail, Sheriff Ian Parkinson said at an afternoon news conference.

Flores’ arrest comes nearly a month after the Sheriff’s Office named him the “prime suspect” and searched his father’s Arroyo Grande property with cadaver dogs and ground-penetrating radar.

The father, 80-year-old Ruben Flores, was also arrested Tuesday morning in Arroyo Grande, a city about 12 miles south-southeast of San Luis Obispo. A jail record for Flores indicated he was booked on suspicion of being an accessory after the fact, and was being held on $250,000 bail.

The Sheriff’s Office has turned the case over to the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine any possible charges.

Paul Flores was the last person to see his 19-year-old classmate alive before she went missing nearly 25 years ago after the two left an off-campus party together.

Despite an exhaustive search, investigators were unable to find her body in the years after and she was legally declared dead in 2002.

No remains were found during the most recent search at Ruben Flores’ property in Arroyo Grande, the sheriff revealed during the news conference.

“We are not going to stop until Kristin has been recovered, no matter what the cost, no matter the time, we’re committed to that,” Parkinson said. “We will find Kristin.”

Since 2011, the Central Coast law enforcement agency had served 41 search warrants, looked for physical evidence at 16 locations and submitted 37 older items for DNA testing, according to Parkinson. Nearly 200 new items of new physical evidence were also recovered, while dozens of people were interviewed.

The new information helped detectives secure a court order authorizing them to monitor and intercept Flores’ cellphone and text messages, the sheriff said.

Then, last year, investigators served two search warrants at the San Pedro home belonging to Paul Flores last year.

The first search took place on Feb. 5, 2020, at his residence in the 900 block of Upland Avenue. At the same time, detectives also served search warrants at homes belonging to Flores’ father, mother and sister, according to Parkinson.

“Physical evidence uncovered during these searches led to the service of an additional search warrant at Paul Flores’ home in April of last year,” he said.

That second warrant was served on April 22, during which time investigators “recovered evidence related to the murder of Kristin Smart,” according to Parkinson.

More evidence was then discovered during the mid-March search of Ruben Flores’ Central Coast home, he added.

The sheriff did not provide further details about what was discovered during the searches, as both of the warrants are sealed by the court.

Flores was among those previously questioned in the Smart case, but he had not been arrested in connection with one it until Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He also denied allegations after being sued by Smart’s family in civil court, and invoked his Fifth Amendment right in a deposition and before a grand jury, the newspaper reported.

The Smart family released a statement after the arrests were announced. The statement read in part:

“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.”

In an unrelated case, Flores was arrested two months ago on suspicion of being a felon in possession with a firearm, according to the Los Angeles Police Department. He had a prior conviction for driving under the influence.