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Man Shot Dead After Defending Gay Friends From Homophobe

Investigators say a Floridian man fatally shot a man who had defended his friends against the gunman's anti-gay slurs. Gunfire broke out around 1 a.m. Sunday outside Las Flores Restaurant at 913 Lake Ave., just west of Dixie Highway, across the street from Lake Worth City Hall. Nelson Sigfredo Hernandez Mena, 48, a Honduran living in Lake Worth, is charged in the shooting. Juan Javier Cruz, 22, also of Lake Worth, was killed. A second man, whose name hasn’t been released, was shot in the ankle, deputies said.

The victim's cousin, Pedro Cruz, credits Juan for saving his life, a local radio station reported. Pedro told the station that he was there when Juan took his last breath. Investigators say Mena had also been out with a few friends at the restaurant that night, and was "very drunk" after drinking 15 to 20 beers.

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According to the probable cause report obtained by LawNewz.com, witnesses said Cruz and friends were hanging out at a restaurant in the early morning. That’s when they came across another group. In this second group was a man later identified as Mena. One of Cruz’s friends said the suspect threw ugly looks at them. When they were about to leave, Mena allegedly said “If we were in my country, I’d kill all of you like rats.” Another witness recalled that he said, “I hate you damned gays. I’m going to kill you all here.”

The victim who was shot in the leg had asked one of Mena's buddies for his telephone number, and believes that's why the gunman got angry. Cruz's friends also said that Mena kept looking over at their group "with an angry look."

The argument began inside the Las Flores Restaurant along Lake Avenue in Lake Worth and spilled outside across the street from City Hall, according to the report.

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Mena, a Honduran citizen, shouted at Cruz and his acquaintances: “If we were in my country, I’d kill all of you like rats.” At least one of the men in the group is gay, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s statement.

Cruz responded, and Mena pulled out a gun, the report says. A witness told police that Mena shouted “I hate all you damned gays I’m going to kill you all here,” and then started shooting in a fit of rage.

Deputies eventually identified and located him. He admitted to drinking drinking heavily that night, as well as opening fire, they said. He claimed to have only shot in self-defense. The man who died wasn’t his intended target, and he didn’t mean to “hurt anyone,” he said according to a statement.  

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In the same statement Mena also wildly mentioned that he only shot in "self defense".

Self defense?  How is 1 armed shooter shooting at a group of unarmed people of which he was verbally threatening anything remotely close to 'self defense'?

None of Mena's group had seen what happened, but supposedly heard the gunshots. The man who gave his number to Cruz's friend said he went immediately back and was confronted by "a man who said his friend had been killed."

Another of Mena's friends asked him what happened, and he replied "nothing," and "asked him to take him somewhere."

The investigation into the shooting remains active, and it’s too early to determine if Mena will be charged with a hate crime, said Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Edmondson.

Mena was denied bond in a court hearing Monday and will remain at the Main Detention Center in West Palm Beach, according to records obtained by a watchdog group. Mena faces first-degree murder, attempted first-degree murder, and two counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill. The next court date is set for September 5th. Florida is a capital punishment state.

“First-degree murder cannot be enhanced as it's a capital crime, but any lesser charge could be enhanced if the investigation establishes hate motivation on targeting the victim,” he said.

“Juan will always tell his cousin, man, always keep your head up because nobody can make you feel less than what you are, nobody,” said Brenda Carballo, Juan’s cousin while looking at Pedro.

A candlelight vigil to honor the life of a young man who was gunned down while defending his cousin and friends was held Monday night and the family of Juan Cruz have set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for Juan's funeral expenses.

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