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‘The worst day of my life’: 40 years since deadly mass shooting in northeast El Paso

Shirlene Masterson's son was killed in the Starburst Lounge mass shooting 40 years ago.
Shirlene Masterson's son, Randy Steele, was killed in the Starburst Lounge shooting Feb. 3, 1980.
Shirlene Masterson's son was killed in the Starburst Lounge mass shooting 40 years ago.
Randy Steele was one of five people killed in the Starburst Lounge shooting Feb. 3, 1980 in northeast El Paso.
Shirlene Masterson's son was killed in the Starburst Lounge mass shooting 40 years ago.
Shirlene Masterson's son, Randy Steele, was killed in the Starburst Lounge shooting Feb. 3, 1980.
Starburst Lounge mass shooting
Eight people were shot, five killed, by a lone gunman inside the Starburst Lounge Feb. 3, 1980.

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- It's been 40 years since El Paso's first mass shooting in recent memory, but Shirlene Masterson remembers the day like it was yesterday.

Masterson, now 87, was first woken by the sound of sirens screaming past her house. Hours later, she woke up to a knock on her door from a police detective and police chaplain.

"The feeling, I kind of went numb," Masterson said. "I thought if they let me go out [the door] I could run away from it."

Her 20-year-old son, Randy Wayne Steele, was shot and killed by a lone gunman. Randy was one of eight people shot, five of them killed, the night of February 3, 1980 inside the Starburst Lounge in northeast El Paso.

"It was the worst day of my life," Masterson said.

Barry Chvarak, 61, is serving five life sentences for Murder with a Deadly Weapon. Masterson told ABC-7 during an interview in 2000 Chvarak initially got into an argument at the bar over who was the best marksman. Masterson says that's when Chvarak went out into the parking lot, loaded his weapon and started firing once he went back inside the Starburst Lounge.

An act of heroism

Three days later, Masterson answered another knock on her door -- a young woman she did not recognize.

"She was shaking. She said, 'You know, your son should be alive. You know he saved my life? He pushed me out of the way.'"

Masterson would learn her son was shot three times while pushing a waitress out of the way as Chvarak began firing.

Masterson said she never heard from that woman again, but she promised her she'd live a better life going forward. The waitress also had recently become a mother.

Remembering Randy Steele

Randy Steele died on February 3, 1980, but he has lived on every day since through his mother.

Masterson says there isn't a day that's gone by she hasn't thought about her late son. A framed picture of Randy rests atop a piano in her northeast El Paso living room.

"There's not a night that goes by I don't say goodnight to him, I love you. Never do I miss. If I happen to forget, I'll come back [out to the living room]."

Masterson recalls many moments over the years where she finds herself thinking of, or even talking to, Randy.

"Sometimes I feel he's watching over me. I was putting on makeup one day and I was kind of troubled. I picked up the mirror and his pictured picked up in my mirror. He was standing right there. I'm talking to him, literally felt him, and there he was in the reflection in the mirror."

But with every moment she feels like Randy is there with her come the moments where he's not.

"Every day something nice happens it brings it back. He's missing this. We've got a lot of grandchildren now, babies running around. He's missed so much."

Aug. 3 mass shooting 'like flashbacks'

El Paso's darkest day proved to be reliving a nightmare for Masterson.

"It was like flashbacks. I was thinking about the people. My heart was broken for them because I know what they're going to go through."

Masterson has lived 40 years of her life without a son gunned down by a mass shooter. She says she wants to talk to any of the 22 victims' families from the Aug. 3 mass shooting if they are looking for someone to talk to.

"Don't be quiet," Masterson said. "Just have someone to talk to. I thought while I'm still talking about [Randy], I've got him here. It's when you don't mention their names, then it's going to be very hard."

Masterson is the mother of six children and admits had Randy been her only child when he was gunned down she's not sure how she would've handled his death.

Reaching forgiveness

The convicted killer in the Feb. 3 Starburst Lounge shooting was first eligible for parole in 2000. Masterson fiercely fought Chvarak's parole back then with a group of other survivors and their families.

Nearly 20 years later, Masterson has reached forgiveness.

"There's me carrying that hate in my heart for this Barry Chvarak," Masterson said. "I've come to terms with myself I'm going to have to forgive this man. And I did."

Masterson says within the last year she forgave her son's killer after a talk with her pastor.

"I felt like I walked out of that church and I had weights lifted off my shoulders. Ever since then I've been more content in my life."

Masterson says because of that forgiveness she will no longer sign any petitions to keep Chvarak in prison.

Chvarak is up for parole again this summer.

Crime / El Paso / Texas / Top Stories / Video

Erik Elken

Erik Elken co-anchors ABC-7’s flagship newscasts.



  1. And Barry’s father Don never spoke about his sons horrendous misdeed to me after knowing him for years when it was brought up he would change the subject but you could tell how painful it was for him. Don’t ever let Barry Chvarak breath free air again

  2. al pendejo lives up to it’s surname: pendejo. I’m hard pressed to remember a more idiotic POS in all the posts I have read here and elsewhere. IT is even dumber than biden. IT contributes nothing intelligent to any of IT’s posts and only berates people with something to add to the conversations. IT is talking about itself when it refers to unstable maggots and that kind of breed. A nothing doing nothing amounting to nothing. Just green slime taking space on God’s beautiful planet. Taking air from those that deserve to breathe.

  3. el perro rabioso nunca se ve su culo sangriento. Solo ataca a todos que tienen la razon.
    Eres un idiota pendejo. No todos aque somos blancos. Estupedo.

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