The suspect allegedly made derogatory comments about gay people

By Chris Harris
August 08, 2017 01:57 PM

A 22-year-old Florida man is being hailed a hero after he was fatally shot early Sunday morning while allegedly coming to the defense of friends and relatives who were being mistreated because they are gay, PEOPLE confirms.

A 48-year-old man is behind held without bail in the death of Juan Cruz, who had spent the hours before his death celebrating a new job, according to court records obtained by PEOPLE.

Cruz was in a group of four people who were enjoying food and drinks at Las Flores Restaurant in Lake Worth.

Court records allege that Nelson Hernandez Mena, originally from Honduras, was also at the restaurant that evening with a group of friends. But he allegedly became enraged after spotting one of Cruz’s friends exchanging numbers with one of his male friends, investigators claim.

Mena, who has yet to plea to the charges he faces, then allegedly began directing homophobic insults at Cruz and his group. Witnesses told police he allegedly told Cruz, “If we were in my country, I’d kill all of you like rats.”

Mena also allegedly told Cruz, “I hate you damned gays,” court records indicate.

In time, both groups made their way outside the restaurant, where Mena allegedly continued to make derogatory comments.

When Cruz tried to defend his friends and relatives, Mena allegedly pulled out a handgun and fired off several shots, killing Cruz and wounding a bystander.

Credit: GoFundMe

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Mena allegedly told police he had had between 15 and 20 beers during the hours leading up to the shooting.

He allegedly told police he was not trying to shoot Cruz.

The brave man’s cousin, Pedro Cruz, told the local CBS affiliate that Juan saved his life. He said his cousin pushed him to the ground when the gun was fired, and that Juan took a bullet that was meant for him.

Juan Cruz died at the scene of the shooting, according to police.

Prosecutors are still considering whether to file additional hate crime charges against Mena.

The Cruz family has established a GoFundMe page to raise money for Juan’s funeral expenses.

PEOPLE was unable to reach Mena’s attorney or Cruz’s family for comment Tuesday.