BRADENTON - For the past 14 years, people passing by Juan Enrique Medina's duplex apartment in East Bradenton would call 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 morning in the 2200 block of 15th Avenue East.
Police say he was killed after the gunman, who is being sought, pulled off two home invasion robberies in the area.
The shooter was described by police as standing about 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 170 pounds. He may have been wearing a mask, police said.
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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.
Police say 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.
He was killed in his attempt to save his friend, police said.
"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 family's duplex. The candles were 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."
Juan Medina leaves four children and his wife, Emma. Ivan, his oldest son, installs gutters for a Sarasota company. Luis "Wicho" Medina, 14, and Brisa Maria Medina, 12, both attend Haile Middle School.
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 explained to school officials what had happened and if there were any problems to call him.
Juan Medina also left Kevin, 3.
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 put aside.
"We will move now," Ivan Medina said. "I never want this to happen to another of my family."
Juan "Neighnor" Medina leveled the dirt for buildings. His story is one of a man who comes 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 meet him, you felt a positive vibe."
His little family grew.
They sold food from their home for awhile without a license, but they had to survive, Ivan Medina said.
Four children were raised. Ivan 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 looks a person in the eye and stands up for what is right, he said.
"I learned a lot from my dad," Ivan Medina 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 would get stopped for speeding or not wearing a seat belt and have to go to court," Ivan Medina said.
"He did community service hours. But it was worth it to him. He wanted to have something better for his family."