Bradenton homicide victim was known as 'Neighbor'

rdymond@bradenton.comOctober 8, 2013 

BRADENTON -- For the past 14 years, people passing by Juan Enrique Medina's duplex apartment in East Bradenton would shout out, "Hi, Neighbor!"

"Neighbor" became the nickname of the 49-year-old husband and father of four who was shot to death at 2:30 a.m. Sunday right in front of his home.

Medina was called "Neighbor" because he would invite friends and strangers passing by on 15th Avenue East to sit and have some hot food cooked by his wife, Emma Estrada, or have a cold beverage, said his oldest son, Ivan Medina, 22.

"My dad was a good man," Ivan Medina said Monday. "He treated everyone like family, which is something he taught us." But Juan Medina, who worked as a construction worker for a Sarasota company, would also not tolerate someone mistreating someone, his son said.

According to police reports and the family's account, Medina stepped in at 2:30 a.m. when a friend he was with was pistol-whipped by a man who had just committed a pair of home invasion robberies a few duplexes over from the 2200 block of 15th Avenue East.

In his attempt to save his friend, Medina became the city of Bradenton's seventh homicide victim of 2013. No one had been arrested in the slaying late Monday.

"I believe my father came to his friend's rescue and took a bullet," said Ivan Medina, who was sleeping in the duplex at the time of the shooting. "When I went outside, I saw my dad laying there dead. He had been shot in the head."

On Monday, candles were arranged on the patio just outside the Medinas' duplex, placed where Medina had fallen after being shot.

The candles are lighting the way for the Virgin Mary to bring Medina home, said his son.

"My dad was Catholic," Medina said. "He loved Mary. We had a service Sunday night with 30 friends and family. A woman came and recited the rosary for my dad."

Details of Juan Medina's death involve a flurry of activity after the Medina family had a birthday party Saturday for Juan's daughter, Brisa Maria, who just turned 12.

By 2:30 a.m., everyone was gone except for Juan Medina and a friend who were just sitting and talking on the patio, Ivan Medina said.

A few duplexes away, a gunman had kicked in the front door to an apartment and stolen $80 and two cell phones from the occupants, according to a Bradenton Police Department report.

The robber then ran to the duplex next door and did the same thing, getting $100 and cell phones, according to the report.

"We heard that he put a gun to a child's head in one of the duplexes," Ivan Medina said.

After the second robbery, the assailant was confronted by Medina and his friend, said Bradenton police Capt. William Fowler.

"I think the man who did this saw two guys chilling on the patio and came over to rob someone again," Ivan Medina said.

The shooter was described as standing about 6-foot-2, weighing 170 pounds. He may have been wearing a mask, according to police.

Juan Medina leaves his wife, Emma; Ivan; Luis "Wicho" Medina, 14; and Brisa Maria Medina, 12; both whom attend Haile Middle School; and Kevin, 3.

Ivan Medina, thinking of what his father would want, took Luis and Brisa to school Monday so they could try to resume their normal activities. He told school officials what had happened and said if there were any problems to call him.

The six Medina family members paid $550 per month for the last 14 years for a small but neat duplex apartment with two bedrooms.

"We have learned to share the space," Ivan Medina said.

The family decided some time ago, after they had been robbed, that it would be best to move. They were saving their money and had a little set aside.

"We will move now," Ivan Medina said. "I never want this to happen to another of my family."

Juan "Neighbor" Medina's story is one of a man who came to America without citizenship papers but the desire to make a better life for his family, his son said.

"My dad came to America from Matamoros, Mexico, just over the border from Brownsville, Texas, as a youth," Ivan Medina said. "Yes, he was caught and deported and came back to the United States. He came back for a better life. He put himself to work. He started a family. He was never in trouble. If he saw anyone sad or troubled, he tried to make it positive. The first time you met him, you felt a positive vibe."

His little family grew.

Four children were raised. Ivan Medina said he learned to be a man from his dad.

"He would say to me, 'Ivan, if I am deported, you are the head of the house. You've got to be strong. You can't make decisions that are greedy. Do what is right for mom and the little ones.'"

Like his dad, Ivan Medina said, he looks a person in the eye and stands up for what is right.

"I learned a lot from my dad," the eldest son said. "He was the kind of guy who wouldn't come home, grab a beer and sit on the couch. He would play with his kids, sweep off the patio, make sure everything was being done. He kept all the vehicles in the family running."

Because he was not a U.S. citizen and had been deported, Medina did not have a driver's license all the time he was in America.

"He was a ghost American," Ivan Medina said. "He would get stopped for speeding or not wearing a seat belt and have to go to court. He did community service hours. But it was worth it to him. He wanted to have something better for his family."

Ivan Medina is fighting his own choking anger.

"I have a lot of hate inside me toward this man, but while I would want to do some things, I wouldn't," Ivan Medina said of his father's killer. "I have a family to take care of."

Anyone with any information about the slaying can call Manatee County homicide task force Detective Jim Curulla at 941-747-3011, ext. 2224., or Crime Stoppers at 866-634-TIPS.

Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter at @RichardDymond.

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