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Paul Flores’ former dorm room assigned to two Cal Poly students who plan to honor Kristin Smart

Lauren Walike
Santa Lucia Hall is located on Cal Poly's campus and is the residence hall where Paul Flores lived during his freshman year at the university.

If you’re living on the Central Coast, Kristin Smart is a name you may have heard quite frequently in the past few months.

Smart was a Cal Poly student who disappeared during her freshman year in May 1996.

Now 25 years later, Paul Flores — one of the last people to be seen with her — is being charged with murder for killing Smart.

Credit Dave Minsky | Santa Maria Times
Paul Flores in San Luis Obispo Superior Court on Aug. 23 for the 12th day of his preliminary hearing where he is being charged with murder for killing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart in 1996.

Flores’ former dorm room in Santa Lucia Hall is the place investigators allege Smart may have been killed.

Many students have lived in Paul Flores’ former dorm room in Santa Lucia Hall after Smart’s disappearance.

But prior to this year, Paul Flores was only labeled a person of interest. That changed in April when the San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office named him a prime suspect and Flores was arrested and charged with murder.

It’s important to note that there has been no confirmation about what, if anything related to Smart’s disappearance, occurred in the Santa Lucia dorm room 128 in 1996.

And so, Cal Poly has continued to assign students to live in that room. This year, Maya Netto and Lizbeth Juarez-Gutierrez will be sharing Flores’ former room in Santa Lucia Hall.

When incoming Cal Poly student Maya Netto first found out where she would be living for her first year, she didn’t think much of it.

“Well we got room 128 and we were just like ‘oh that’s cool, you know, it's on the first floor, less walking’ and we were excited about that,” Netto said. “And it wasn't until the next morning when we were sitting on the couch and I started getting all of these calls and text messages from everyone – I’d like screenshotted our room assignment and sent them a picture because I was like ‘oh we’re together, look how cool that is’ – and they were like ‘you’re in Paul’s dorm.’”

Once Netto realized the dorm room was formerly Paul Flores', her perspective shifted.

“It was definitely hard in the very beginning, kind of after the shock of it wore off because both of us realized the implications of what most likely happened in that dorm room. And we both kind of invested ourselves so much in the case – I think because we saw a lot of Kristin in ourselves,” Netto said. “Even her hometown of Stockton is really close to Modesto, where we’re from, so we relate a lot to her.”

Cal Poly Spokesperson, Matt Lazier, said in a statement to KCBX News that both Flores’ and Smart’s former rooms are still in use within University Housing.

Lazier wrote that “University Housing’s professional and student live-in staff are all aware that concerns may arise” regarding the two rooms and will work with residents and the “Assignments team to satisfy any related student requests as they may arise.”

Juarez-Gutierrez said she had a similar reaction to Netto when finding out the significance of their room mainly based on information from the podcast Your Own Backyard created by Chris Lambert.

“Just knowing that the school still uses his dorm room knowing what happened or what is said to happen there. It was definitely like a shock I guess in that sense. Especially since me and Maya, we had listened to the podcast and we had heard such bad things that like [happened in] this dorm room,” Juarez-Gutierrez said. “So just learning like that’s our dorm room was, it was just a shock and was like ‘whoa’ – it didn’t kind of click at first.”

Netto said she heard about Smart’s disappearance before deciding to attend Cal Poly, but didn’t consider the possibility of being in Flores’ room. The preliminary hearing for Paul Flores is still ongoing and there is no confirmation about what, if anything, happened in the room related to Smart’s disappearance.

“My roommate and I had actually been listening to it – listening to ‘Your Own Backyard’ – before we even decided to attend Cal Poly, so we were already kind of deep into it,” Netto said. “We definitely knew a lot about the case and then when we decided to attend Cal Poly, we were like ‘oh that’s so cool, you know, that's the school where this case happened,’ but we never really thought we’d be in the dorm room or anything.”

Netto said that because she knows so much about the case, she now sees living in the room as an opportunity to honor Smart’s memory.

“I think originally I wished that someone else who had never heard about the case had that dorm because they could be oblivious to it. But then I think we both realized that it was an opportunity for us to memorialize Kristin in a way just because we knew about it,” Netto said. “We could give her some of the respect she deserves by creating some kind of memorial for her in the room and just acknowledging what happened because we’re not sure if that’s happened before, so we’d like to do that for her.”

Since the room number has been part of the court proceedings and is public information, Netto said she has thought about the possibility of students or community members wanting to visit the room.

“Now that it's very publicized, we’re a little bit worried about our privacy. All we can ask is that people who are interested in the case will respect our privacy because we both care a lot for Kristin and understand everyone who wants to pay their respects to her. But we’re both students too and just want to feel comfortable in our dorm, so we might feel a little uncomfortable if people start coming up to us or want to come take a look,” Netto said. “So, it's kind of a thin line to cross because we totally understand people who are interested in that, but we’re also students and we need privacy.”

When asked about potential privacy concerns from students living in Flores’ former room, Lazier reiterated his previous response that the university and housing staff are prepared to accommodate students’ requests and concerns if they arise.

Netto said she and Juarez-Gutierrez don’t have any plans to switch rooms.

Credit Dave Minsky | Santa Maria Times
Ruben Flores, who is being charged with felony accessory after the fact, is in San Luis Obispo Court on Aug. 25 for his preliminary hearing.

The preliminary hearing for Paul and Ruben Flores is expected to continue into next week, which would be the sixth week of testimony.

At the end of the preliminary hearing, Superior Court Judge Craig van Rooyen will rule whether prosecutors established probable cause to proceed the case toward trial.

Lauren Walike joined KCBX as its news manager in February 2021. In addition to her KCBX work, Lauren also serves as news director for KCPR-FM, Cal Poly’s student-run radio station, and digital director of Mustang Media Group, Cal Poly’s student-run news organization. She will graduate from Cal Poly’s Honors Program in June 2021 with a Bachelor of Science in journalism with minors in Integrated Marketing Communications and Media Arts, Society and Technology.
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