After dining with family and friends, Juan Cruz met fatal gunfire outside the Las Flores restaurant in Lake Worth.
WPTV reports 48-year-old gunman Nelson Hernandez Mena harassed Cruz and his friends on their way out of the restaurant last Saturday according to witnesses, shouting a variety of homophobic epithets their way:
"If we were in my country, I'd kill all of you like rats,” witnesses heard him say. "I hate you damned gays, I’m going to kill you all here.”
Mena has been charged with first-degree murder with a firearm. He also faces charges of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a firearm on another person.
While Cruz was reportedly not gay, he is said to have responded in outrage to Mena’s verbal violence from a place of moral indignation — in an effort to protect his cousin Pedro Cruz, who is gay, from such abuse.
As police reports and court proceedings confirm, Mena had been drinking heavily at the bar, with his tab totaling at several beers. In a statement to police, Mena confessed to consuming around 15-20 beers, claiming to no memory of the violence that he wrought or the chain of events that inspired his rage.
“They were having drinks at the bar when Pedro said the suspected shooter Nelson Hernandez got angry and began insulting them after Cruz’s friend exchanged numbers with someone in Mena’s group,” reports local news syndicate CBS12.
Whether prosecutors will promote Mena’s charges of drunken brutality to the level of hate crime violence is not yet clear.