Authorities seeking student remains find ‘items of interest’

A sign outside the James R. Murphy, Jr. law office in Arroyo Grande, Calif., offers a reward for information in the 1996 disappearance of Kristin Smart, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016. FBI agents sifted through dirt Wednesday at an excavation site on the edge of California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where they hope to find remains of the student. Smart, 19, of Stockton, Calif., was last seen in the early morning of May 25, 1996, while returning to her dorm after an off-campus party. (AP Photo)

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. (AP) — Items found by authorities digging for the remains of a California college student who vanished 20 years ago are being examined to see whether they’re related to her disappearance, it was announced Thursday.

Investigators aren’t revealing what they found this week at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, where 19-year-old Kristin Smart was seen returning to her dormitory from an off-campus party on May 25, 1996.

A male student who said he left Smart near her dorm is considered a person of interest in the case although he was never arrested or charged, authorities have said.

The “items of interest” were not being disclosed but they are being analyzed to see if they are related to the investigation, San Luis Obispo County sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said in an email.

The items were found on a campus hillside near a large concrete letter P that is a landmark of the school, located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

FBI agents and sheriff’s employees began digging there on Tuesday.

Two other hillside sites also are marked for digging, with work on the second site already underway.

Crews using heavy equipment, followed by close-in work with rakes and shovels, are expected to sift about 20,000 cubic feet of dirt through Friday.

The locations were identified in January by dogs trained to detect old human remains.

The excavation was prompted by a lead developed through a comprehensive review of the entire case, which has been under investigation for more than 20 years and has involved other searches, Sheriff Ian Parkinson told reporters Tuesday.

Smart’s parents, Stan and Denise Smart of Stockton, told The Tribune of San Luis Obispo on Wednesday that they were encouraged by the developments, despite previous fruitless searches over the years.

“We are mindful that with or without the hoped-for results from this week’s efforts, we are now on a path that will bring our family peace and comfort,” they wrote in an email.

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