Owners of bowling alley in mass shooting vow to reopen it as ‘a safe place again’

LEWISTON, Maine — At first, Justin Juray couldn’t fathom re-entering his beloved bowling alley, much less reopening it after a gunman’s rampage there in October killed several people.

“I had some guilt,” said Juray, who bought Just-In-Time Recreation in Lewiston with his wife, Samantha, in May 2021.

“I couldn’t see myself inviting or asking people to come back in here if I couldn’t keep them safe the first time,” he said.

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But as the couple contemplated the catastrophe in the weeks that followed Maine’s deadliest mass shooting at the bowling alley and a nearby bar, in which 18 people died, they realized they couldn’t abandon the business for a simple reason: the need to honor the lives lost.

Now, the thwack of bowling balls and falling pins will fill Just-In-Time again when it reopens at 10 a.m. May 3.

“I could hear Bob Violette just telling me, ‘You can’t give up a key,’” Juray said, referring to the bowling youth league coach who was killed in the massacre along with his wife, Lucy Violette.

“He dedicated so much of his own personal time to teach kids — just voluntary, really no money, no anything,” said Juray, adding, “He was a huge influence on changing my mind.”

Justin and Samantha Juray were at the bowling alley on the evening Robert Card, 40, an Army reservist, opened fire there before he went to Schemengees Bar and Grille and killing several more people. The shooting spree sparked a multistate two-day manhunt that ended when Card was found dead by suicide.

Police documents released later said that the gunman’s mental health had been deteriorating and that he believed several local establishments, the bowling alley and bar among them, were broadcasting claims he was a pedophile.

The bowling alley, which had been in business for decades before Juray bought it, was hosting a practice for kids in the youth league when the shooting began. Some survivors said they thought the barrage of bullets was balloons popping. One man said he raced down the length of an alley and crawled into the bowling pin machinery to hide.

Samantha Juray was in the kitchen. Her husband said he thought she was behind the front desk, and he saw the muzzle of the shooter’s gun flash at least three times in that direction. He assumed she was dead.

“It was a little while before I found out that she was still alive and that she had locked the door after he left,” Justin Juray said. “So I am obviously thankful. Very thankful.”

Samantha Juray said she still remembers the eerie noise of cellphones ringing and vibrating in the aftermath of the shooting. When it was safe, she tried to help patrons, but she couldn’t find her husband.

“I didn’t find out for, like, 2½ hours if he was alive or not,” she said.

Justin Juray, who wasn’t technically working that night and was bowling with his father, initially thought someone had set off a firecracker. When he saw the gunman pointing his weapon toward the ceiling, reality still didn’t register, he said.

Among those killed was Tricia Asselin, 53, who tried to call 911 as people ran for an exit on one side of the building, her sister, Alicia Lachance, later told NBC News. Asselin, who worked part-time at the bowling alley’s concession stand, was there on her night off with another sister.

The Jurays say they are heartbroken over the victims.

“We lost family,” Justin Juray said. “That’s what it was. We lost family.”

In recent months, an independent commission has investigated the response to the shooting, with scrutiny of whether law enforcement and the military did enough to prevent it. A state lawmaker has also proposed a “red flag” law; the bill, which advanced Tuesday out of a legislative committee, would allow family members to petition judges to have firearms confiscated from those having psychiatric crises rather than require police to initiate the process. Currently, Maine has a “yellow flag” law that requires further steps to be taken before guns can be removed.

While legislators debate, the Jurays have turned their attention to renovating Just-In-Time, replacing the floors, damaged bowling balls and the front desk. They opted against certain security measures, such as an armed guard, afraid it would take away from a family-friendly atmosphere.

The Violettes’ adult children said reopening the bowling alley can help heal the hurt. John Violette and his wife, Cassandra, returned to Maine to preserve his parents’ legacy with a bowling foundation to support children.

“We’ve experienced enough,” John Violette said. “And I would hate for all the time and energy that people have put into making this a great place go to waste.”

Justin Juray agrees.

“It was a random act that caused a lot of devastation and a lot of horror for a lot of people, and we want to be a safe place again,” he said.

“I want to have all these people back,” he added, “and see our family again.”

Emilie Ikeda and Carolina Gonzalez reported from Lewiston and Erik Ortiz from New York.

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