Metro Weekly

Florida man shot to death while defending his gay friends

Prosecutors say it's too early to determine whether the assailant will face hate crime charges

Juan Javier Cruz – Photo: WPEC-CBS 12.

On Sunday, a 22-year old man was shot to death in Florida after he defended his friends from an attacker who was shouting about how he hated gays and wanted to kill them, the Sun-Sentinel reports.

Juan Javier Cruz and a group of four friends, some of whom are gay, had been eating and hanging out at Restaurante y Pupuseria Las Flores in Lake Worth, Fla. around 1 a.m. When the restaurant closed, the group went outside and were confronted by 48-year-old Nelson Hernandez Mena, who began threatening them.

According to witnesses, Mena, a citizen of Honduras, told the group, “If we were in my country, I’d kill all of you like rats.” He then said, “I hate you damned gays. I’m going to kill you all here.”

When Cruz stepped in to defend his friends, Mena pulled out a handgun and fired several shots, striking Cruz and killing him. Another bystander, whose name was not released by authorities, was shot in the ankle. That man, who was not affiliated with Cruz’s group but had asked one of Cruz’s friends for a phone number, told police he believed he was targeted because he is gay.

Cruz died outside the restaurant before he could be transported to a hospital. Mena was arrested Sunday after 10 a.m. He reportedly told investigators he drank 15 to 20 beers and was very drunk when the group started attacking and threatening him.

Mena was subsequently charged with murder, attempted murder, and aggravated assault with a firearm. He remains held in Palm Beach County Jail without bond.

The police investigation into the shooting remains active. Michael Edmondson, a spokesman for the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office, told the Sun-Sentinel that it’s too early to determine if Mena will face hate crime enhancements on top of the charges he already faces.

Cruz’s family has started a GoFundMe campaign to help cover his unexpected funeral expenses. Thus far, the campaign has raised more than $9,000.

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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