"While Kristin's loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates," reads the statement from Kristin Smart's parents
Kristin Smart
Kristin Smart
| Credit: Facebook

The parents of Kristin Smart issued a statement on Tuesday, calling the arrests of a father and son for their alleged involvement in the 19-year-old college student's 1996 disappearance and presumed murder "bittersweet."

"It is impossible to put into words what this day means for our family; we pray it is the first step to bringing our daughter home," reads the statement.

On Tuesday, San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson announced the arrest of Paul Flores, Smart's former classmate at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and a longtime person of interest in the case. He's being held on suspicion of murder.

Flores, 44, was the last known person to see her alive after volunteering to walk her home when she was heavily intoxicated after a party, police have said.

Parkinson said Flores' 80-year-old father, Ruben Flores, was arrested on suspicion of accessory to murder. Flores is being held without bail, while his father remains in custody on $250,000 bail.

Neither suspect has entered pleas to the charges they face.

An attorney representing Flores, Sarah Sanger, told NBC News their firm will not comment on pending cases. Ruben Flores' attorney, Harold Mesick, declined comment to KSBY.

Smart's remains have never been found, but police are determined to find them.

"While Kristin's loving spirit will always live in our hearts, our life without her hugs, laughs and smiles is a heartache that never abates," the Smart family statement continues. "The knowledge that a father and son, despite our desperate pleas for help, could have withheld this horrible secret for nearly 25 years, denying us the chance to lay our daughter to rest, is an unrelenting and unforgiving pain. We now put our faith in the justice system and move forward, comforted in the knowledge that Kristin has been held in the hearts of so many and that she has not been forgotten."

The statement thanks all of the law enforcement entities involved in the investigation, as well as the producers of a popular podcast about Smart's disappearance, which led to new tips in the case.

"We are pleased that Kristin's case has now moved to the district attorney's office, where we know we will be in good hands, and look forward to the day when there will be 'justice' for Kristin," the statement adds. "To HEAL, we must REMEMBER not only Kristin but also every heart that carried Kristin and our family in theirs! Kristin's story is ultimately one of unwavering commitment, resilience and immense gratitude."

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San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow issued his own statement on the arrests, saying, "We are carefully reviewing the evidence and will provide more information as it becomes available."

Flores had long been the sole person of interest in the case, but evaded arrest for decades.

He had remained mum about the case, invoking his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent when he was deposed in a 2005 wrongful death civil suit brought against him by Smart's parents, which they ultimately dropped.

PEOPLE has never been able to reach Flores for comment.

In 1998, his attorney told PEOPLE that authorities had no evidence against Flores.

"It's one thing to have suspicions," attorney Melvin de la Motte told PEOPLE, "but that doesn't make up for evidence."

PEOPLE was unable to reach de la Motte for comment after Flores' arrest.