Witnesses told police that Juan Javier Cruz was killed for defending his gay friends from a gun-wielding man who said he hated homosexuals and spoke of his desire to “kill [them] like rats.”
Cruz was leaving Restaurante y Pupuseria Las Flores with a group of friends when another restaurant patron confronted the group, shouting threats and expletives at them, according to a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office report.
“I hate you damned gays. I’m going to kill you all here,” the man said, according to witness accounts in the report. “If we were in my country I’d kill all of you like rats.”
Witnesses said the man pulled out a handgun shortly after this second statement and began shooting. Cruz stepped forward to defend his friends and was shot and killed, the witnesses said. A bullet struck another man, who has not been identified, in his ankle.
Police arrested a 48-year-old man they identified as Nelson Hernandez Mena, a Honduran national, later on Sunday. He faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault with a firearm, the Palm Beach Post reported.
Mena told police that he had consumed 15 to 20 beers and was “very drunk” at the time of the shooting, according to the police report. He told officers that “he didn’t intend to hurt anyone,” the Sun Sentinel reported.
A spokesperson for the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office told the Sentinel that it was still too early in the case to say whether Mena would be charged with a hate crime.
On Monday, a judge ordered Mena to be held without bail, WPBF-TV reported.
Some of Cruz’s family members, who were in the courtroom at the time, demanded justice for their loved one’s death.
“He did it for no reason,” Cruz’s cousin Brenda Carvallo said of the suspect, according to WPBF-TV.