Nelson Hernandez Mena was arrested on Sunday after he allegedly shot and killed Juan Javier Cruz and injured another man in a confrontation outside a Salvadorian restaurant.
Mena, 48. faces charges of aggravated assault with a firearm, attempted murder, and first-degree murder. He is being held at Palm Beach County Jail and was denied bond during a first court appearance on Monday morning by Judge Dina Keever-Agrama. The press did not name an attorney for him.
According to the arrest report, the incident occurred at Restaurante Y Pupuseria Las Flores on 913 Lake Avenue at around 1 a.m. on Sunday. Cruz, 22, and his friends, at least one of whom is gay, were eating and drinking at the restaurant. Mena was also at the restaurant with his friends, but in a separate group. When the restaurant closed, Cruz’s group went outside and were reportedly confronted by Mena, who started threatening them.
“I hate you damned gays. I’m going to kill you all here,” Mena allegedly shouted, according to witnesses.
When Cruz defended his friends, Mena pulled out a handgun and shot Cruz and injured another man in the ankle. The identity of the wounded man has not been released, but he reportedly told detectives that he believes Mena shot him because he is gay. He said he had asked one of Mena’s friends for his phone number, which may be why Mena was angry.
Several of the people in Mena’s group told investigators that they did not witness the shooting, but they heard the gunshots. The man who gave his phone number to one of Cruz’s friends said he ran back to the restaurant when he heard the shots. There, he reportedly met someone who said his friend had been shot.
Another of Mena’s friends also said he heard shots as he was walking to his car. He told investigators that Mena appeared a few minutes later. When he asked him what happened, Mena said “nothing” and asked him to drive him somewhere, the report said.
After his arrest, Mena told investigators that “a group of guys started attacking and threatening him” when he left the restaurant. He said he had consumed 15 to 20 beers that night and was very drunk. He recalled pulling out his handgun and firing, but he told detectives that Cruz wasn’t his target. He said he didn’t mean to hurt anyone, according to the report.
Cruz’s family appeared in court on Monday morning hoping that the judge would “do the right thing” and send Mena to jail. His mother, Amanda Cruz, told the press that her son was not gay and that he was defending his cousin, who is gay. The family has set up a GoFundMe page to pay for Cruz’s funeral expenses.
A spokesman for the Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office told the Sun Sentinel that it was too early to determine if the shooting will be charged as a hate crime.
“First-degree murder cannot be enhanced as it’s a capital crime, but any lesser charge could be enhanced if the investigation established hate motivation on targeting the victim,” said Palm Beach State Attorney’s Office spokesman Michael Edmondson.