(LOS ANGELES) -- It has been 20 years since 19-year-old Kristin Smart, a freshman at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, disappeared after a party near school. Now, an excavation project is underway on campus in the hopes of finding her remains.
Smart was last seen early in the morning on May 25, 1996, returning home toward her dorm after a party near the San Luis Obispo campus, according to The Associated Press.
San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson told reporters Tuesday that he hopes the new search, officially beginning this morning, leads to her body or evidence of it.
The digging effort is on part of a hillside on campus, near the Cal Poly "P" landmark, the San Luis Obispo County sheriff's office said, a result of a lead that "was developed over the past two years that strongly suggested" her remains might be buried there.
Human remains detection dogs from the FBI searched the area in January of this year and alerted "locations of interest" in that area of campus, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Authorities are also looking at several other locations that have not been disclosed, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Parkinson said the operation will last a few days.
The excavation is happening now so it won't interfere with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo's fall quarter, which begins Sept. 22. The city of San Luis Obispo, with a population of about 47,000, is along the Central California coast, about 200 miles north of Los Angeles.
The sheriff said he spoke to the Smart family Tuesday and the Sheriff's Office said her family "has been kept apprised and is supportive of this new development."
Parkinson said, "Until it's done, we want to continue to manage our expectations. We're hoping that we find something and we're committed to not stopping until we're able to bring this to a closure."
"It is our hope and desire this leads to some of the answers," Parkinson said. "We'll not give up."
The sheriff said authorities are not any closer to making an arrest than they were in the past.
Cal Poly spokesman Matt Lazier told ABC News: "Our hearts continue to go out to the family of Kristin Smart. We cannot imagine the pain they have endured over the years and hope this investigation leads to answers."
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