February 10th, 1990. Stephanie Senac, 34-years old, was starting her day as the manager of the Las Cruces bowling alley, in New Mexico. She was in her office adding up the receipts from the previous night. With her were her 12-year old daughter Melissa and Melissa’s friend Amy Houser (13). Both girls were also working that day, in the day care run by the bowling alley.
Ida Holguin, 30, was also in the bowling alley that day. As the cook, she was preparing for the expected lunch rush in the alley’s kitchen, when two men entered trough an unlocked door in the back. One of the men, holding a gun to her head, ordered her to walk to Stephanie’s office. As Ida arrived to the office, she was shocked to see the other man also holding a gun, pointing it at Stephanie, Melissa and Amy.
The men yelled at the 4 people inside of the office to lie down on the floor and keep their heads down. Ida later stated to a journalist: ‘I just thought they were gonna get money and then take off, especially when they told us, ‘All of you put your heads down‘. The men started to rummage around the office and looking at the papers on the desk, seemingly somewhat unclear of their goal in the office. After a while, they demanded access to the safe, a safe that only Stephanie could open. While Stephanie opened the safe, Steven Teran entered the bowling alley’s front door. Steven worked there as a pin mechanic and was scheduled to work this Saturday. Unfortunately, he hadn’t been able to find a babysitter for his two daughters, Valerie (2) and Paula (6), so Steven had taken them with him to work, so that they could stay at the alley’s day care.
Steve looked around in the bowling alley, expecting to see Stephanie or Ida. When he did not see either, he walked into the office, disturbing the armed men inside who were in the process stealing the approximately 5000 dollars in the safe. When Steven entered, it is thought he tried to overpower the armen men, but did not succeed. He and his two daughters were then told to also lie down. And then… the armed men started shooting at the 7 people lying on the floor. Ida later said: ‘When he said that (‘heads down!’), I thought, ‘These guys are leaving.’ And that’s when I felt they had shot me in the head.‘
All of the victims inside the office were shot multiple times, including the 4 children. The gunmen left, but not before they set the office on fire by igniting some papers on the desk. They likely believed all the victims were dead and were trying to dispose of the evidence.
Melissa, alive after being shot 5 times, crawled to a phone in the office and dialed 9-1-1, asking for help. She told the 911 operator that she had been shot, and that ‘it hurts’. Later she said:’I had to do something. I picked up the phone. There’s a fire, too’. The call closed with Melissa telling the dispatcher: ‘Please hurry. There’s a bullet in my head’.
Police and firefighters quickly arrived at the scene. The first reposnders quickly dragged all the victims from the office – since as it was on fire- to the lobby of the bowling alley, where they could assess all the victims safely.
Steven, Paula and Amy were pronounced dead at the the scene. They rushed Melissa, her mother Stephanie and Ida to the hospital. Valerie was also rushed to the hospital, but pronounced dead within an hour of the shooting. Melissa miraculously survived being shot 5 times. Stephanie also survived after spending 11 days in hospital, but unfortunately died in 1999 due to complications from the injuries she sustained during the shooting. Ida recovered after spending six months in hospital.
Firefighters quickly put out the fire in the office. Police set up roadblocks around Las Cruces within 60 minutes of the shooting taking place. A car with 4 hispanic men was stopped, who had thousands of dollars of cash on them. Stephanie’s brother was called in to see if he could identify any of the men as the shooters, but he did not recognize anyone. The Hispanic men were allowed to continue their journey. Investigators searched the area with planes and helicopters. But… there was no further sign of the men involved.
There were two witnesses to the armed men leaving the bowling alley after the shooting. One of them coincidentally was Stephanie’s brother, who happened to come by the bowling alley at that time to pick up a bag he had left on Friday night. He later described to investigators:’I saw two Hispanic gentlemen walking from the back of the building towards the front. The older gentleman handed the younger gentleman a small case. The older gentleman squats down, and looks right at me as I’m driving towards them. I took notice of what they were wearing, and their descriptions, hair color, skin, eyes‘. Neither man was wearing a mask or gloves, leading investigators to think they not expect people to be at the bowling alley. Based on all the witness descriptions, police were able to draw up sketches depicting the suspects in the case.
Suspect number 1 was described as a younger man around 30, around 178 cm (5’10”) in height, with dark wavy hair, speaking english without an accent. Suspect number 2 was an older man, around 45-50, with short salt and pepper hair, around 170 cm in height (5’7″), who spoke with a slight Spanish accent. The sketches were widely distributed, but no-one came forward who recognized the men.
There was a massive manhunt in the first few days after the shooting. But after no sign of the men was found, it slowly turned into a cold case. The fire in the office of the bowling alley -and the subsequent actions to put out the fire- had destroyed a lot of evidence of the crime. No DNA-samples of the killers could be found. However, there were a lot of fingerprints found that could identify the killers. One of the detectives, years later, stated about the crime scene:‘It was a very complicated crime scene. They lit the office on fire. That’s a clear indication they were thinking about destroying evidence they had left behind. They weren’t going to leave any witnesses, no matter how young. I have no doubt when they left, they thought everyone in there was dead‘.
Six days after the shooting, Ron Senac, the owner of the bowling alley and Stephanie’s father, reopened the business to customers. This led to a lot of rumors of his involvement, especially after it was discovered the bowling alley had been 1,5 million dollars in debt. Ron would go on to sell the bowling alley in December of 1990. There were also rumors surrounding another Senac family member. RJ Senac, the alley’s regular bartender and Stephanie’s younger brother, allegedly used to do some drug deals from behind the bar. However, no link between RJ, drugs and the murders was ever found. Some investigators and Ida, one of the victims, believe that the shooters were not at the bowling alley just to rob it, as money had been left behind in the safe and the shooters seemed to be looking for something else, before going to the safe. The police still states robbery as the motive for the shooting. One of the other most common theories is that the attack was revenge against specific people associated with the bowling alley, and that the victims were chosen randomly. In this theory the armen men were allied with a gang, and hired to do the shooting.
As of April 2023, the shooters have still not been identified and the murders remain unsolved. It remains an open case. Multiple investigators are still searching for leads, hoping new technologies can help shed some light on the killer’s identities. One of the detectives involved in the case told the Sun News in 2020:‘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. 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’. Las Cruces Crime Stoppers offers 25.000 dollars reward for any information that helps identify the men responsible for the shooting.
In 2016, Anthony Teran, Steven’s brother, said this about not having answers to the Las Cruces Sun News: ‘In this day and age, things like this don’t go unsolved. How did we not get these guys? That’s the question I ask myself every day. Numerous people saw these gunmen, so someone out there knows something, and they need to come forward’. He also said about the gunmen: ‘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’. Audrey Teran, who lost her husband Steven and her two daughters, said on the 30th anniversary of the shooting that she would go into a fit of rage, if she would ever face the killers. The Teran family still holds a candle-light vigil every year at the bowling alley, which has been empty since 2018. The family imagines what the future of Paula and Valerie could have been, with their grandfather Polo saying:’It should have been a beautiful story, but someone decided to play God and take their lives’. Raymond Holguin, Ida’s husband, also attends these yearly memorials, but Ida does not. She hasn’t returned to the bowling alley, since the last time – the filming of an episode of ‘ Unsolved Mysteries’- made her physically sick.
A detective currently on the case stated:’A lot of this case is dependent on someone coming forward with information… We’re really counting on the public‘. Tips can be provided anonymously by calling Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477. Tips can also be provided online at NMCrimeStoppers.org or through the Crime Stoppers app, “P3 TIPS.”