Cousin credits victim in fatal shooting for saving his life

Cousin credits victim in fatal shooting for saving his life. (WPEC)

A candlelight vigil to honor the life of a young man who was gunned down while defending his cousin and friends was held Monday night.

22-year-old Juan Cruz died after a hate-filled argument about being gay turned deadly outside Las Flores Restaurant in Lake Worth, early Sunday Morning.

His cousin, Pedro Cruz, is crediting Juan for saving his life.

CBS12 sat down with Pedro inside his home Monday afternoon.

Before our interview, he called Juan’s cellphone to hear his voice on the voicemail greeting.

With tears in his eyes, Pedro said he was there when Juan took his last breath.

A group of four went out to celebrate Juan's new job at Las Flores Restaurant that evening.

They were having drinks at the bar, when Pedro said the suspected shooter Nelson Hernandez Mena got angry and began insulting them after Cruz’s friend exchanged numbers with someone in Hernandez’s group.

Pedro said Hernandez made statements about hating gays, and wanting to kill them like rats.

Both groups eventually went outside.

Pedro said Hernandez fired at him, but Juan pushed him out of the way, saving his life.

The 22-year-old died at the scene.

Hernandez is charged with first degree murder, attempted first degree murder, already faces life in prison.

Prosecutors have not decided on a hate crime enhancement in this case.

Monday evening, Juan Cruz’s family and friends lit candles to honor someone who they say always encouraged those like Pedro to not be afraid to hide who you are.

“Juan will always tell his cousin, man, always keep your head up because nobody can make you feel less than what you are, nobody,” said Brenda Carballo, Juan’s cousin while looking at Pedro.

The family has set up a GoFundMe page to pay for Juan’s funeral expenses.

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