READING, Pa. -

The man who was shot dead Sunday was trying to get his life back together, despite a troubled past with the law, friends said.

"He was trying to get his degree, you know what I'm saying, in business," said Amos Dennis, close friend of the victim. "He was just trying to stay focused."

Police say Maximino Cruz Jr., 36 of N. Eighth Street in Reading, was killed after being shot in the back just before 3 a.m. Sunday.

Investigators say it all started after a heated argument between Cruz and two other Hispanic men in the 1300 of Mulberry Street.

Witnesses said the men chased Cruz down the block and through a breezeway.

He collapsed next to Angel Ortega's home after he was shot.

"I opened the window, and I saw him. I was asking him, are you okay," said Ortega.  "I was trying to talk to him, but he wouldn't respond to me."

Court records show that Cruz did have a problematic past.

In 2006 he was convicted of several counts of assault and harassment, and also pleaded guilty to assault in 2002.

But friends paint a different picture.

They said Cruz was kind, and great with kids.

"If the ice cream truck came, you know, he would offer them ice cream," said Valincia Centeno.

"He was doing a lot with himself. He wasn't in the streets like that, you know what I'm saying," said Dennis.

While loved ones wait for justice, they say they have one last plea.

"Put the guns down," said Dennis. "It's senseless. Nobody wins."

Police said they had several names of persons of interest, and that this case continues under investigation.

Anyone with information is urged to call Crime Alert Berks County at 877-373-9913.

Crime Alert is offering a cash reward of up to $10,000 for information that leads to an arrest.