LAS CRUCES, N.M. (AP) — Elise Teran never knew her uncle and his two children but they have always been a big part of the 16-year-old’s life.
Steven Teran, his 6-year-old daughter Paula Holguin and 2-year-old daughter Valerie Teran, were among those killed at Las Cruces Bowl on Feb. 10, 1990, when two gunmen entered the bowling alley before it opened on a Saturday morning, shot seven people execution style, robbed the business’ safe of about $5,000, and set the office on fire.
Four other people were shot that day, including Amy Houser, 13, who died from her wounds, Melissia Repass, 12, who made the 911 call after the shooting, the bowling alley’s cook Ida Holguin, 30, who survived, and the business’ manager Stephanie Senac, 34, who died years after the shooting as a result of her injuries.
Thirty-one years later, the homicides remain unsolved.
Remembering how they lived
The “bowling alley massacre” has always been a big deal for Elise and her sister Nissa Teran, 14.
When Charlie Minn’s documentary, “A Nightmare in Las Cruces,” premiered on the 20th anniversary of the massacre, Elise said she remembers sitting outside of movie theaters, too young to go in, but she was aware that her uncle and cousin’s story was being told on the big screen.
Anthony Teran — Steven’s younger brother and Elisa and Nissa’s father — would often speak before screenings of the movie. The sisters also travel with their dad to schools when he would talk to students about the massacre.
The girls also saw their grandma and grandpa talk about it on TV news.
Steven Teran, 26, was the bowling alley mechanic. On that fateful Saturday, he couldn’t find a babysitter and decided to take his two young children to the center’s day care.
When the Teran family talks publicly about what happened, it’s often about how Elise’s uncle and cousins died. She prefers to focus on how they lived.
“I’d rather laugh at the funny things he’d do, rather than being sad about it. Also to raise awareness to value family and someone’s life and to just know that this could happen at any moment to anyone and you should be thankful for the time you have with your family, your friends, anyone who this could possibly affect,” she told the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Elise said her dad picked up many traits from his older brother.
“Whenever we’d have a pitcher of tea and my dad would pour me a glass, he’d start real low close to the glass and pick it up higher and higher, still pouring it into the glass, and he’d tell me that his brother used to do that all the time,” she said.
She now listens to her uncle’s Van Halen album that has been passed down to her. She said her dad shares stories about “jam-out sessions” with Uncle Steven and now that she has her uncle’s Van Halen album and a vinyl record player, so can join in.
“My dad’s a rocker, (Steven) was a rocker and now I’m a rocker,” she said. “It was passed down because my Uncle Steven was the one who showed my dad all of the music.”
Even though Elise never met Paula and Valerie, she sees them in other people — her sister Nissa and cousin Valerie look alike, she said.
One year, while Elise was sitting next to her cousin’s headstone, she began to cry.
“I don’t even know why. I didn’t know them or anything, but I just cried, and I made all of my other cousins cry talking about them, even though I didn’t know them, but I feel like they impacted me as well,” she said.
Nissa said although she feels like she’s grown up in a state of mourning — “you can feel the heaviness throughout everyone,” she said — Steven, Paula and Valerie can bring joy to the family.
“They’re a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
A brother’s responsibility
In May 1990, three months after the homicides, Veronica Escalante went on a date with Anthony Teran, whom she’d met in class at New Mexico State University.
When Veronica and Anthony were about to leave on their first date, he received a phone call from Audrey Teran, Steven’s widow. Audrey was distraught so Veronica and Anthony spent the entire night with Audrey, comforting her.
Veronica remembers many nights spent comforting Audrey.
“She lost everything that day. She never went back to her house,” Veronica said.
Despite the tragedy that enveloped the Teran family, Veronica knew within the first couple of months of dating Anthony that she’d spend the rest of her life with him, and they’ve managed to build a happy life together.
“I think supporting each other through it all, through everything that life brings you, just being there for each other. A lot of affection, a lot of love, a lot of understanding, a lot of patience. Whatever he’s going through, I’m going through. We go through it together,” she said.
This time of year is especially difficult for the bowling alley victims and their loved ones. Few of them speak about it publicly, leaving it to Anthony to be the unofficial spokesperson of the tragedy.
“Anthony made Steven a promise when Steven passed away that he would do everything within his ability to get this solved, or to have justice and just because justice hasn’t been solved yet, we can’t give up. We have to keep trying,” Veronica said.
Anthony often speculates as to why and how the massacre happened and has never broken his promise to keep searching for answers.
“I can almost guarantee that those two guys are dead. By their lifestyle, because if you can shoot a 6-year-old and a 2-year-old in the forehead, you can do anything. You can do anything. Nothing’s going to bother you,” he said.
Anthony said it would be a small recompense to the victims if someone alive would be held responsible.
“We’ve suffered, we’ve suffered right now and it’s probably never going to get better, but really having somebody to answer for it would put a little bit of faith and hope in the justice system and to let future criminals know that no matter how long it takes they’re not going to get away with it,” he said.
For the past four and a half years, Las Cruces Police Detective Amador Martinez has headed up the department’s effort to close the book on this case.
Martinez didn’t talk to the Sun-News this year, but he did on the 30th anniversary.
Last year, he said he receives tips monthly.
“Some months we get just numerous tips and there’s really no telling why or what the reasoning is, why people come forward, but they do. So in random months I’ll get inundated with them and some months are a little lean,” he said.
The case gained newfound attention this year after being featured on the podcast “The Crime Junkie,” one of the most downloaded podcasts in the world.
Around the anniversary, Martinez said he usually gets a flood of calls.
“I’m grateful for that. I really am. It allows me an avenue to pursue new leads to follow, because sometimes we get frustrated that we don’t have as many leads as we need to have,” he said.
Martinez said last year that had the massacre happened today, detectives would have used newer techniques to preserve evidence. In 1990, investigators did the job they knew how to do.
To this day, investigators don’t have a “DNA profile” of the suspects, he said. What they do have is a lot of fingerprints and a lot of old school methods that don’t quite mold into the new technologies, he said.
“The advent in technology, the difference in technology, it’s at our disposal, we just have to find that right piece that will fit into that mold, that will fit into this new DNA technology, this new genealogy tree that we can use. We just have to find that piece and I’m positive we have it. I just haven’t found it yet,” Martinez said.
One of the people who might find that right piece of evidence is Elise Teran. She’s considering a career in law enforcement, specifically forensics. Maybe she can carry on her father’s promise.