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LAKE WORTH (CBSMiami) –The death of a 22-year-old in Lake Worth has been deemed a possible hate crime.

Deputies say Juan Cruz was shot and killed outside the Las Flores restaurant on Sunday, according to CBS12.

His cousin, Pedro Cruz, now says when he wants to hear his cousin’s voice, he calls and listens to the greeting on the voicemail.

Pedro was there when Cruz took his last breath.

Pedro said the suspected shooter, Nelson Hernandez Mena, got angry and began insulting them after his friend exchanged numbers with someone in Hernandez’s group.

Pedro says Hernandez made statements about hating gays, and wanting to kill them like rats. Then both groups went outside.

Seconds later Pedro says Hernandez fired at him, but Juan pushed him out-of-the-way – saving his life.

Pedro says he died instantly.

Pedro and his relatives have lit candles to honor Juan. He’s 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 his cousin Brenda Corballo.

As for the suspected shooter, Mena is facing several charges including first degree murder. He remains in custody at Palm Beach County Jail.


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