Juan Javier Cruz
Juan Javier Cruz was killed for defending his friends Go Fund Me

A 22-year-old was shot and killed in Florida after he defended his friends from a man who was ranting about wanting to kill gay people.

Juan Javier Cruz had been with friends, some of whom were gay, at Restaurante Y Pupuseria Las Flores in Lake Worth at around 1am on Sunday (6 August).

The group went outside after the restaurant closed, where they were confronted by 48-year-old Nelson Hernandez Mena, who began to threaten them.

"I hate you damned gays," Mena allegedly ranted, according to witnesses. "If we were in my country, I'd kill all of you like rats."

When Cruz defended his friends, Mena pulled a gun from his trousers and fired shots, killing Cruz and wounding another man.

Mena told investigators he had drank 15 to 20 beers that night and admitted opening fire, but said it was in self-defence.

Mena faces charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder and aggravated assault with a firearm. Many are calling for Mena to face a hate crime charge too, but the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office said it was up to the Attorney General to decide.

The bystander who was shot and injured had asked one of Mena's friends for his phone number, which may have led to his outburst, according to the arrest report.

Cruz's friends also said that Mena kept glancing over at their group "with an angry look."

The mother of the victim, Amanda Cruz, told WPTV that her son had been trying to protect his cousin who was gay.

"[Mena] did it out of vengeance. He needs to pay for what he did... Because it does not matter if someone is gay, lesbian, whatever; we are all humans and we need to respect the decisions of others."

Cruz's family have set up a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his funeral.