CAL POLY SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - There's a potential break in a high-profile cold case involving former Cal Poly San Luis Obispo student Kristin Smart who disappeared on campus just over 20 years ago and has long been presumed dead.
The San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department and the FBI have begun excavating a remote site on the northeast side of the Cal Poly campus where both agencies say specially-trained dogs have detected what could be buried human remains or significant evidence in the case.
The excavation is taking place in a remote area below Cal Poly's iconic "P" sign on the hill overlooking the campus.
"We're hoping that we find something and we're committed to not stopping and bringing this to a closure", said San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson at a press conference Tuesday afternoon announcing the potential break in the case, "the (Smart) family understands this is our hope and desire that this leads to some of the answers that we've been asking for the past 20 years as to what happened to Kristin."
Sheriff Parkinson said other local sites are also being excavated but did not disclose their locations.
News of the potential break in the Kristin Smart case spread quickly on and off the Cal Poly campus which has not yet begun the Fall quarter of classes.
"I guess if they do find anything up there, 20 years is a long time for this this thing to go unsolved", said Cal Poly graduate student John Goldsby.
"They've had those might be's before, I know its a lot", said Cal Poly graduate student Jason Colombini about previous leads in the cold case, "hopefully this one is the break they've been looking for."
Colombini is renting the off-campus house where 19 year old Kristin Smart was seen drinking at a party the night she disappeared more than 20 years ago.
Investigators say Smart and two other students left the party early in the morning and walked back to their dormitory buildings on campus.
The last person to see Kristin Smart alive is former Cal Poly student Paul Flores who told investigators he left Smart at her dorm, Muir Hall, before he returned to his own dorm room at nearby Santa Lucia Hall.
The Sheriff's Department says Flores, now nearly 40 years old and living in southern California, remains a person of interest in the case.
"Its a cloud and the biggest thing about it is its something that has been unsolved after all these years", said Jason Colombini, "I think that we want a solution, what happened, what happened to her, where is she?"
In a statement released earlier this year to coincide with the 20th anniversary of her disappearance in May, the family of Kristin Smart said they have full faith and trust in the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff's Department to solve the case and bring those responsible to justice. The statement also expresses gratitude to Sheriff Parkinson for his "unwavering" dedication to the case and to support from the community, and encourages anyone with information to come forward and share it with investigators.
Parkinson says the multiple excavations are expected to take the next several days.