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How Cal Poly student journalists covered the disappearance of Kristin Smart

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Posted at 7:57 PM, May 25, 2021

Cal Poly's college media has been keeping Kristin Smart's memory alive for the past 25 years.

The 19-year-old freshman disappeared from campus on May 25, 1996.

The story first appeared in the Mustang Daily nearly a week after Kristin went missing and off and on ever since.

Olivia DeGennaro first heard about the case when she was a sophomore journalism major in 2013 and produced a series of print and television stories as part of her senior project.

"I think I was probably 19 when I heard about the case, and I thought, okay, this 19-year-old blonde girl from Cal Poly, like this could have been me," she said. "And it could have been any girl. It's not like she did anything wrong or she's any different. And she's from Stockton and I'm from Sacramento, and we're - we didn't grow up that far apart."

She reached out to Kristin's mom, Denise, and asked for an interview.

"And talking to her mom really made it real for me. Like, this family is still struggling and still dealing with this every single day and it's a very real thing to them every day. It's not just a story."

She held onto the interview for the next two years, ultimately turning it into a series of stories for Cal Poly's newspaper and television broadcast in 2015 just before she graduated.

"I wrote 4 parts, and two got published," DeGennaro said.

Still, couldn't let it go, keeping those two unpublished stories and her notes until a podcaster messaged her on social media. His name was Chris Lambert and he was working on a project called "Your Own Backyard."

"And that just brought me so much relief that people were finally talking about it and really giving this case the attention it deserved for so long," DeGennaro said.

That attention is still keeping the story alive with current students.

Lauren Slezack is a freshman who saw the press conference about the arrest of Paul Flores earlier this year. It made her think twice about her own safety on campus.

"I feel like I never really think about it and it's just crazy, she probably wasn't really thinking about it either that night, and it's just so sad that something like that can happen," Slezack said.

Even today, students are working to keep the story alive, organizing a walk on the 25th anniversary of Kristin's disappearance.