“I heard somebody, and it sounded like they were drowning in their own blood.”
Jim Hash had just poured himself another cup of coffee, covering his mouth in his lame attempts to mask a yawn in front of the other dispatchers. He glanced at the clock on the wall: 8:28 am.
Saturdays are the busy days, but the calls won’t start pouring in until after most of Las Cruces residents are fully awake; mostly calls of property crimes like theft, and breaking and entering, but occasionally a rape or potential homicide.
Hash spent an entire career as a Las Cruces Police Department dispatcher; he loves his job, and he’s seen and heard everything. He sips his black coffee, wishing the office would buy a more expensive blend of New Mexico Pinon instead of the cheap Maxwell House special.
Hash was heading back to his desk when the red light started to blink, followed by the familiar ringing of the phone. He let it ring twice, a little trick he learned to relay to the usually frantic caller — even for sometimes the pettiest reasons — to not yell into the receiver. The trick seldom works, but it’s a habit now.
“911, what’s your emergency?”
Las Cruces Nightmare
The caller, a distraught pre-teen girl, in a whispering tone broken up by heavy breaths, claimed that two men had just entered the bowling alley with guns; they rounded up the staff, and are shooting each person “execution-style”.
To Jim Hash, this call seemed too terrifying to be true, and thought it might be. Sometimes hoaxes happen, but he was unsure about this one. Over time, the best dispatchers, like Hash, learn to listen not only to the caller’s words, but the other smaller vocal aberrations as well. Almost like reading between the lines, Hash hears the snot being sucked back into the nostril, the mixes between a whimper and a cry, and the slight popping noises accompanied by a heavier bass in the voice — a clear sign that the phone receiver is being held too close to the caller’s mouth, usually a sign of sheer distress.
He immediately dispatches all available units to the scene; he prays that what this girl is saying is just a terrible hoax… but by now, he already knows better.
The caller, 12-year-old Melissia Repass, is crouched behind the desk in the main office. With her hand over her mouth, she is trying to not cry too loudly. She says she’s “heard a lot of shots”, and she knows they killed her entire family, all except her.
“I heard a gurgling sound and my mom would not answer me.”
“I heard somebody, and it sounded like they were drowning in their own blood.”
Hash’s chest tightens. He feels he may have a panic attack, but knows that he must remain calm and collected, for Melissia's sake. Hash tells Melissia how brave she is being for staying on the phone, and that police officers are almost on the scene.
A crackling sound echoes through the receiver, and what Melissia says next makes the dispatcher’s heart sink even deeper.
“There’s a fire on the desk. They are going to burn us up.”
Inside The Bowling Alley
Stephanie Senac, 34, was managing Las Cruces Bowl on this fateful Saturday, and with her was her daughter Melissia, who made the 911 call. The alley’s cook on duty was Ida Holguin, 30, who was inside the kitchen when the unmasked men entered. Ida, who survived but was injured, later told police that the two men entered around 8:20am, a mere forty minutes before the bowling alley opened its doors for Saturday business. Amy Houser, 13, was there to work the alley’s child care that day.
Steven Teran, 26, was supposed to be home, but had recently been picking up extra shifts at the bowling alley to bring in extra income for his family. He didn’t mind the weekend work, and in fact, he enjoyed staying busy; as a First Lieutenant in the New Mexico National Guard, he was accustomed to working on weekends.
However, unable to find a babysitter for the Saturday morning, Steven brought his two young children, 6-year-old Paula, and 2-year-old Valerie. Detectives believe that Steven and his kids interrupted the robbery, which was already in progress, and may have angered or spooked the two unmasked men. They were herded into the office and forced on the ground, with the four others already held captive.
Melissia remembers when the bandits came in, because she and Amy Houser had wanted a few snacks from the vending machine. Melissia asked her mother for quarters, and she obliged, so the two girls left the main office and made their way to the concessions. It was there that they were confronted by the two gunmen, who took them hostage before rounding everyone else up.
The eldest of the two bandits entered the kitchen, and at gunpoint, pushed Ida, the cook, into the office as well. They made all four hostages lie on the floor face down as the bandits searched for their bounty.
Down The Line
Captain Fred Rubio, in charge of the case, told media, “they were concentrated in one area and shot in one area.” After all seven were compliant and subdued on the floor, the gunmen began shooting each person “execution-style” in the back of the head.
They shot everyone in the head, and out of the seven, only two would survive. Hearing the 911 call placed by 12-year-old Melissia Repass is even more heartbreaking knowing that as she was on the phone, a single bullet was lodged inside her skull.
“Please hurry … it hurts … I’m the only one conscious … I’m holding my mommy,” she says.
Steven Teran was killed instantly, along with his two daughters Valerie and Paula. 34-year-old Stephanie Senac died years later from complications of the injuries she sustained in the shooting. Like the remaining few survivors, she lived her life in fear that the killers would come back to eliminate her.
Valerie Teran, the youngest victim, and believed to be the last to be executed, was shot at point-blank range in her forehead. The shooter would most likely have had to pick up the baby to place the barrel close to her head.
Audrey Teran, Steve Teran’s widowed wife, who was not at the scene because of her cosmetology school commitments, told media,
“They’ve got to be maniacs to do this. What can a 2-year-old do? Why my little girls, my babies?”
The grieving widow would later say about Steven:
“I believe Steven is sending me strength. I believe he and my daughters, my girls, they’re all in heaven. God has a mission for them. Steve took the girls with him because he didn’t want to leave them to suffer.”
Audrey Teran not only lost her loving husband but her two children on the morning of February 10, 1990. The once-joyful mother lost her entire family in the blink of an eye.
“It kills me I couldn’t have been there.” - Audrey Teran.
More Questions Than Answers
The Las Cruces Bowling Alley Massacre was one of the deadliest mass murders in New Mexico history. And tragically, the case still remains unsolved, with no promising developments or leads. The total sum of money stolen from the alley during the shooting by the bandits was a measly $5,000.
Why would these men kill innocent children?
Dona Anna County Sheriff, Cooney Sarracino, told media, “you don’t see many execution-style murders. I’ve seen where three or four people were killed, but NOT little kids.”
Was this a random act of violence?
Captain Fred Rubio said that the bandits “were not complete strangers to the area. They didn’t just drive by and say, ‘Oh, this looks like a good place to rob.’ There were other places open.”
County Sheriff Sarracino states that even before the bowling alley massacre, he had, “seen an increase in homicides.” Also, several weeks before the shooting, there was another execution-style shooting at a gas station located close to the bowling alley.
How did the criminals know that there would be money in the safe in the morning?
Most businesses take care of accounting at the end of the day, so not to leave money over night. It’s almost like the two men knew that there would be money in the safe that morning. But, if they knew that money was left overnight, why didn’t they break in during the night? Why risk being out in the daylight with witnesses?
An Inside Job
Las Cruces Bowling Alley owner Ron Senac — who proved to be uncooperative with police — was golfing in Tucson when the massacre happened.
Does Ron Senac know more than he is telling police?
Law enforcement claim Senac has acted “very distant, had a really blank face, and never gave more than police asked of him.”
Senac had serious money problems and his family claimed that he spent “foolishly”, enough to at least build up an enormous debt over the business. Ron was even living in the bowling alley, a sure sign that his finances weren’t in the best state.
Many believe Ron, or possibly his youngest son RJ, was running a drug operation between the lanes.
RJ died in 1997 of a drug overdose.
Were the Senacs, either Ron or RJ, involved? Sadly, we still don’t know the answer.
This tragic case remains unsolved to this day.