Cal Poly Safer staff and friends of the Smart Family lead a silent march up to the red brick dorms to honor Kristin Smart with a candlelight vigil on Oct. 21, 2022. Credit: Shae Ashamalla | Mustang News

Content Warning: This article discusses topics of sexual assault and rape. 

On Oct. 18, Paul Flores was found guilty for the 1996 murder of Kristin Smart. His father, Ruben Flores, was found not guilty after being accused of helping his son bury the body. 

Paul Flores was convicted for willfull, deliberate and premeditated murder in the first degree, with his sentencing date set for Dec. 9. 

Cal Poly Safer interns Layla Burack and Kallie Kidder organized a candlelight vigil, supported by Mustang News and Cal Poly Safer to honor Smart on Oct. 21. 

Madison Vernon | Mustang News

Kidder and Burack quickly came together to plan this event. 

“We were anxiously waiting for the verdict of the trial,” Kidder told Mustang News. “And so the day it was announced, we were like ‘okay we really need to make a plan and figure out how we’re gonna move forward.’”

This event both paid tribute to Smart’s life and addressed Dating Violence Action Month. By 5 p.m. that Friday, people gathered on the Health Center lawn to hear from the six organized speakers. 

To start off the event, Kidder gave a brief premise of what to expect. 

“Whether you came here knowing someone or not, I hope this opportunity can give you a community of healing, empathy and support,” Kidder said. 

After Kidder spoke, her co-organizer of this event, Burack, spoke as well. Burack’s introduction mentioned important topics about the case for attendees to keep in mind throughout the vigil. 

“Despite the immense amount of media attention, Kristin was much more than a headline in the news,” Burack said. “Although some relief is found today in developments in Kristin’s story, we must acknowledge that the struggle for Kristin, the Smart family and all survivors is not over. While the courtroom doors have closed, ours will stay open.”

Kara Samaniego is the assistant director of Health and Wellbeing at Cal Poly. As the supervisor of Safer, Samaniego spoke about Safer’s involvement with Smart’s story.

“Not a lot of people know this, but sadly, Cal Poly Safer would not exist today without Kristin,” Samaniego said. “Our program was established 26 years ago because of her tragedy and because of her loss. It is the worst case scenario for why or how a program should exist on a college campus.” 

After Samaniego’s speech, two friends of the Smart Family, Therese Cron and Jeannette Trompeter, came up to speak. Smart’s parents asked the friends to speak on their behalf.

“We had justice served this week, but we need to continue to keep you safe,” Cron said. “The Smarts want to share the immense gratitude for the incredibly committed Sheriff’s team and the stellar prosecution team.”

Following this surprise addition to the ceremony, San Luis Obispo Mayor Erica Stewart spoke, who is also a Cal Poly alumna. Stewart also works at Campus Health and Wellbeing.

“When we lose someone, we don’t want to remember the worst things ever,” Stewart said. “We want to remember the best things. As mentioned earlier, Kristin was a daughter, she was a sister, she was a friend and we want to remember these moments.”

Cal Poly ASI President Gracie Babatola came up and spoke afterward.

“While she was a daughter, a Mustang, a friend, it is important that we recognize that before all those things, she was a human being,” Babatola said. 

Mustang News reporter Nico Viñuela had been reporting on the case daily for the entirety of the trial and spoke at this event. Viñuela was the final organized speaker.

“She did very ordinary things that we all do,” Viñuela said. “There’s no lesson to be learned from the actions that she took, but there is a lot of action to be taken from what happened to her.”

After all six organized speakers came up for their speeches, Kidder and Burack gave people in the audience the opportunity to speak at this event or subjects through an open mic as a way to help people process. 

A woman who used to live a few doors down from Smart in Muir Hall came up and spoke, and shared her memories she had with her from 1996. 

She was in San Luis Obispo that weekend for parent’s weekend as her daughter is currently a freshman at Cal Poly.

“I remember her very very well,” she said about Smart. “The long blonde hair, she was so tall. And always the nicest person. I remember that weekend and the weeks after that like nothing else. Nothing made me happier to see the verdict the other day and I’m surprised I’m so emotional but it brings up a lot.” 

After the open mic portion of this event, everyone gathered together for a silent march up to Smart’s memorial in the red bricks and had a moment of silence with battery-powered candles and flowers. 

Smart lived in Muir Hall when she attended Cal Poly in 1996, and the Health Center is located near Crandall Way, the location of the party Smart attended the night she went missing. Paul Flores walked with Smart up the same path that was walked during the vigil, up to the red-brick dorm where Smart was last seen.