Adam Hilarie’s family is devastated in the wake of his shooting death last week, after police allege he was lured into a robbery by a woman he met online.
Hilarie, 27, was selfless and charming, members of his family tell PEOPLE. He was an amateur boxer and mixed martial arts fighter, an excellent athlete, with a job interview planned just days after his death.
He adored his 5-year-old daughter, LaJaya, and his mother – called them his “two princesses.”
“He made it easy for us to talk about him the way we are now,” Hilarie’s older brother Angel Cruz told PEOPLE on Tuesday, from a funeral home where the family had gathered. (Four suspects have since been arrested, including the woman Hilarie had just gone out with on a date, after meeting on the site Plenty of Fish.)
“Now, he’s our hero,” Cruz says of Hilarie.
Police believe this may not have been the first robbery the female suspect set up in this way – and so the arrests potentially prevent more crimes and spare more victims. This gives Hilarie’s family comfort.
And so does the fact that since his death, their community has come out in force, bringing well wishes, sympathy and love.
At the football field of the local high school Hilarie attended, people have placed mementos along a fence, says Angel, 31. The school told the family they will preserve that site for the time being, and more people can bring more things there if they wish. A moment of silence is planned for the first football game of the season.
“It’s overwhelming,” Hilarie’s mother, Anna Cruz, tells PEOPLE. “And I like to see everybody together.”
It’s a reflection of impact Hilarie had on others, his family says: Ever a “protector of people,” he would always put others first. Once, at work, he was in a truck crash and tended to others first despite his own injuries, Angel says. And when Hilarie wasn’t working – most recently as a roofer – he was likely training as a fighter, or working out, or playing a pickup game of football or basketball.
Anna, 52, says seeing people from all walks of life coming together after her son’s death, hugging and crying, “is so amazing.”
She continues, tearing up, “Words can’t tell how I’m so grateful to everybody.”
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‘I’m Still Praying’ for the Suspects, Victim’s Mom Says
Hilarie’s oldest brother, Errol, tells PEOPLE he plans on being in the courtroom for every step of the proceedings against the suspects. (It wasn’t immediately clear if they had entered pleas to their charges or retained attorneys.)
Errol won’t be alone: Anna also plans to be in the courtroom.
But both mother and son have made some peace with the violent crime. They relied, in part, on their faith.
“I can’t judge them,” Errol, 33, says. “When I [first] found out about it, I already forgave those who did it. I didn’t know who they were … I just gave it to Him. Whatever He decides.”
What’s important to him, he says, is that the suspects not be returned to society where they could do more harm.
Anna says she’s heard stories of the suspects’ families being threatened and doesn’t like that. She says that what happened to her son had nothing to do with them.
“I am praying for their family, because I can imagine what they’re going through,” she says, adding, “And I’m still praying for them [the suspects].
She calls the foursome arrested in Hilarie’s death – Hailey Bustos and three men: Joshua Ellington, Gary Gray and Andrew Warner – the “young lady” and “three young men,” because they are still human.
“I keep telling my kids, I got so much faith,” Anna tells PEOPLE. “I know that my God is going to take care of it.”
‘He’s in Heaven’
One of the things about Hilarie that his family mentions over and over is his big smile. That smile, Angel says, probably grew about three inches when Hilarie learned he was having a daughter.
“Man, did he praise that little girl,” Angel says.
Hilarie and LaJaya were “sidekicks,” his brother Errol says. A sharp dresser and avid Florida State University fan, as the rest of the family is, Hilarie would dress LaJaya in fan gear, too.
“That was his princess right there,” Errol says. Hilarie, who Errol says shared custody of LaJaya with his ex-girlfriend, posted many pictures with her to social media.
Their whole family is still grieving and they are spending time together as they cope. Several hundred people are expected at Hilarie’s funeral, and more than 100 attended a vigil for him last weekend.
“It’s going to take a little bit of healing,” Errol says, adding, “But we all know he’s where he needs to be and we’re going to get peace. We’re all going to get peace.”
LaJaya “understands that he’s not here anymore and he’s not going to be here anymore,” Errol says. “But I don’t think she understands it how we understand it.
“The only thing we can tell her is he’s in Heaven and he’s going to be looking out for her, and she can always talk to him whenever she wants to.”