"Items of interest" have been recovered at a site where FBI agents have been digging since Tuesday during their search for missing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart, who vanished in 1996 on her way back to the dorms after an off-campus party.
A team of 25 FBI agents and 15 local sheriff's deputies began excavating a large swath of the hillside, behind some of the older dorms on campus, in hopes of finding the remains of 19-year-old Smart or any evidence that may lead to her body.
On Thursday, Sheriff's Department Public Information Officer Tony Cipolla said "some items of interest" were found at the first dig site Wednesday. There are three separate sites on the hillside that will be excavated and searched, but Cipolla declined to elaborate on whether the items were human remains or something else, such as clothing.
Cipolla did say the items were being analyzed by an on-site forensic analyst to determine whether they are related to the Smart case. He also said it will ultimately be up to Sheriff Ian Parkinson if and when the department discloses what was found and releases any details about the items, since they could be part of the ongoing criminal investigation into Smart's disappearance.
"He doesn't want to jeopardize the case in any way," Cipolla said.
Parkinson announced Tuesday that excavation work would begin on the hillside behind the northernmost part of campus as part of new lead developed over the last two years strongly suggesting Smart may be buried on the hillside near the "P," painted stones shaped into the letter.
The Sheriff's Department brought in specially trained cadaver dogs earlier this year as it worked the lead. Those dogs, which are trained to detect aged human decomposition, keyed in on several locations in the county, including three separate areas of the hillside at Cal Poly.
Parkinson has declined to disclose the other locations.
Crews were focused on the second location Thursday, and Cipolla said they hoped to move on to the third and final location Friday. Work may be extended into Saturday, he said.
"There's a lot of steep and rugged terrain," Cipolla said. "It's a little more slow-going than hoped."
No charges ever have been filed in the case; however, the Sheriff's Department has considered Paul Flores, a 1995 Arroyo Grande High School graduate, a person of interest from the beginning. He was the last person seen with Smart as the pair headed back to the dorms.