Last September’s excavation of a Cal Poly hillside was beneficial to its investigation into the 1996 disappearance of freshman Kristin Smart, the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office says. But it won’t say what — if anything — was gained from the four-day operation.
“This investigation remains active but there are no further updates at this time,” Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla wrote in an email response to questions from The Tribune on Wednesday. “Every major effort to bring resolution to this investigation, including the excavation conducted a year ago, has in one way or another proven to be beneficial.”
Cipolla wrote that the Sheriff’s Office continues to stay in communication with the Smart family and the FBI, which assisted with the dig.
Laura Eimiller, spokeswoman for the FBI’s Los Angeles region, said the agency continues to be involved as requested but referred all other questions to the Sheriff’s Office.
Every major effort to bring resolution to this investigation, including the excavation conducted a year ago, has in one way or another proven to be beneficial.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Tony Cipolla
Late Wednesday afternoon, Smart’s parents, Denise and Stan Smart, told The Tribune from their home in Stockton that despite the anti-climatic end to last year’s dig, County Sheriff Ian Parkinson has personally been in communication with them and they feel better about the investigation than they have in several years.
“We’re hearing tidbits of what they’re doing, and there’s some optimism there,” Denise Smart said. “In this case, since Ian has been there, it always seems as though one thing is leading to another — and this is a good thing.”
We’ve been hopeful for many years, but the Sheriff we currently have seems to be doing a good job.
Stan Smart, Kristin Smart’s father
“Of course, we’ve been hopeful for many years, but the Sheriff we currently have seems to be doing a good job,” Stan Smart said. “We’re hoping that things go forward.”
On Sept. 6, 2016, Sheriff Ian Parkinson held a news conference, saying new information developed over two years by a new detective on the case strongly suggested that Smart’s remains could be on the hillside, an area near the Cal Poly “P” that had been searched by about 400 volunteers in June 1996.
In January 2016, “human remains detection dogs” provided by the FBI alerted investigators to specific areas of interest, Parkinson said. Between Sept. 6-10, the agencies sifted through approximately 20,000 cubic feet of dirt, taking away bones and a possible “item of interest” to a facility out of the county for analysis.
At the time Parkinson also said “we must manage our expectations,” and that he made the announcement because of the area’s “high visibility” to the public and the proximity of the operation’s timing to the start of Cal Poly’s fall quarter.
The investigation into Smart’s disappearance has lasted more than 21 years and spanned three county sheriffs. Smart was reported missing Memorial Day weekend in 1996 after she was last seen walking back to her dorm after an off-campus party in the early morning hours with then 19-year-old student Paul Flores.
Smart was declared presumed dead in 2002; Flores remains a person of interest in the case.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the Smart family against Flores in November 1996 remains stalled pending the Sheriff’s Office’s criminal investigation.
Following the 20th anniversary of her death, Smart’s parents established a scholarship for women seeking degrees in law enforcement, forensic science or architecture. The scholarship has raised about $9,400 of a $20,000 goal as of Sept. 5, according to its website.
Both parents said they hope anyone who has information about their daughter’s disappearance will feel comfortable sharing what they know, given the time that’s passed. “Coming forward with that information would be really helpful to my family,” Denise Smart said.
The Sheriff’s Office encourages anyone with information to report it through Crimes Stoppers online or at 805-549-7867.