Since news broke last Saturday that a Florida man was caught in the act of tearing into the face of another man with his teeth, people everywhere have been asking the same question: What the Hell happened?
31-year-old Rudy Eugene was no saint — but he was "not a face-eating zombie monster" either, according to high school friend Victoria Forte. "The Rudy we know was a nice gentleman with a warm smile, and funny."
Certainly a lot has changed in Eugene's life since his days as a North Miami Beach High School football player. He was a down-on-his-luck car washer who often found himself on the wrong side of the law. While former roommate Erica Smith says Eugene was "really sweet and giving" and "not an aggressive person," his ex-wife and his mother might beg to differ.
Jenny Ductant, to whom Eugene was married for a year and a half prior to their 2007 divorce, told Local 10 she left him after he grew increasingly violent toward her. "I wouldn't say he had mental problem, but he always felt like — people were against him type of attitude," she told the news station.
Three years earlier, Eugene became the first person to be tasered by the North Miami Police Department. He gained this dubious honor while being arrested for beating up his mother and threatening to kill her. Detective Mike Pons noted that he was "very belligerent" and had to be tasered three times before he could be subdued.
Interestingly, the last time he was arrested, four years ago, Eugene received only a suspended sentence after the judge determined he was "not likely to engage in a criminal course of conduct."
The day of the now-infamous incident began at Eugene's girlfriend's house in Miami Gardens, where he spent the early morning hours rifling through their clothes "in a mania." He then left unexpectedly to visit a friend who lives in northwest Miami-Dade. He reportedly asked his friend to accompany him to the Urban Beach Weekend — a Memorial Day event in Miami Beach attended by some 200 thousand people.
His friend turned him down, saying he had to work, so Eugene went alone. He parked his purple Chevrolet Caprice near Tenth Street and Alton Road, but was unable to restart it. He decided to abandon it, and the car was eventually towed away by police.
Eugene proceeded from there on foot across the MacArthur Causeway. On the way back to Miami, he began shedding his clothes and ditching them in the road.
Along the way, underneath the elevated Metromover track, he encountered an elderly homeless man named Ronald E. Poppo resting in the shade. Police believe the two were likely strangers.
Poppo, despite promising start as a graduate of Manhattan's prestigious Stuyvesant High School, hit the bottle hard and spent the past forty years on the streets of Florida racking up criminal charges, including one that was dismissed on grounds of insanity.
It remains unclear what precisely led Eugene to start removing Poppo's clothes and gnawing on his face, but authorities have theorized that the popular designer drug known as "bath salts" may have played a significant part.
A powdery substance commonly consisting of banned stimulants such as mephedrone and MDPV, the drug is got its name from a loophole that allowed it to be sold legally as "bath salts," "plant food" and "insecticide" in convenience stores and elsewhere.
It is currently illegal in certain states — including Florida — but that status is tenuous at best, and no federal ban exists.
Among the symptoms caused by the drug that led officials to conclude it may be the culprit: The removal of clothing due to elevated body temperature, and "super strength" caused by the stimulants found in bath salts. "If you take the worst attributes of meth, coke, PCP, LSD and Ecstasy and put them together, that's what we're seeing sometimes," Louisiana Poison Center director Mark Ryan told the New York Times.
It should be noted that police found no drugs at the scene, and Euguene's autopsy reportedly revealed nothing out of the ordinary. Definitive toxicology results are expected within the coming weeks.
The attack went on for 18 unfathomably excruciating minutes during which police received as many as five calls from eyewitnesses.
The first Miami Police officer to arrive at the scene, Jose Rivera, fired at Eugene soon after he realized what was happening. Eugene kept at it, stopping only to growl at the cop. The officer shot him three more times, killing him on the spot.
Poppo was rushed to the hospital with 75-80% of his face missing. Though he is in critical condition, doctors expect he will survive.
[photos via AP, screengrab via Miami Herald]