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Suspect arrested after deadly Lake Worth shooting; witnesses say he made anti-gay statements

Posted at 6:38 AM, Aug 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-08-07 22:02:43-04

The words spoken before a deadly shooting in Lake Worth could reveal the suspected shooter's motive.

The arrest report for Nelson Hernandez Mena, 48, states witnesses heard Hernandez angrily utter anti-gay statements  just before one man was killed and a second person was injured.

The mother of the 22-year-old man who was shot and killed said her son was gunned down while he was trying to protect his cousin who was being targeted for being gay.

Juan Cruz, 22, and his friends and cousin were at Las Flores Restaurant on Lake Avenue across from Lake Worth City Hall on Saturday night. The police report said that a witness saw Hernandez Mena looking over at Cruz's group angrily. When the restaurant closed and everyone went outside, a witness said Hernandez Mena said: "If we were in my country, I'd kill all of you like rats." The report also said a witness heard Hernandez Mena say: "I hate you damned gays,  I'm going to kill you all here,"  before he allegedly pulled a gun from his waistband.

"He did it out of vengeance," said Amanda Cruz in Spanish, Juan's mother. "He needs to pay for what he did so he won't be racist, because it does not matter if someone is gay, lesbian, whatever; we are all humans and we need to respect the decisions of others."

She said her son was not gay, but his cousin is and he was trying to protect him.

"He is traumatized, he can't sleep," added Amanda about her nephew.

Hernandez Mena told investigators he drank 15 to 20 beers that night. He said once he left the restaurant a group of guys was attacking him and threatening him. He said he remembered pulling out the gun and pulling the trigger but that Cruz was not his intended target. He said he did not mean to hurt anyone and does not know what he did with the gun afterward.

Amanda is heartbroken knowing she will never see her baby boy again.

"When he used to come visit me, he would massage me and say I love you mom," she said in tears. "I miss him, he's my son, it hurts."

Hernandez Mena is charged with first-degree murder with a firearm, attempted first-degree murder with a firearm and aggravated assault with a firearm.

He appeared in court Monday morning. The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said it would be up to the State Attorney's office to decide to add a hate crime charge. 

Cruz's family has started a gofundmeaccount to raise money for funeral costs.