MIAMI (CBSMiami) – When the Causeway Cannibal Rudy Eugene attacked Ronald Poppo, 65, he had been on the streets for more than 30 years. While he has a long criminal rap sheet related to being homeless, his sister Antoinette Poppo remembers a different time.
“I remember a very intelligent boy,” Antoinette told CBS4′s Gio Benitez. “He went to a private school, and I really don’t understand what happened.”
What happened to Poppo Saturday is almost beyond description. He was savagely attacked by Eugene who would chew off and eat part of Poppo’s face.
Poppo remained in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital Wednesday with his nose, mouth, and eyes torn off of his face.
For now, investigators are stuck trying to piece together the puzzle of what is one of South Florida’s most heinous crimes and the two people involved.
The man accused of the hideous attack, and shot dead by a police officer, is 31-year-old Rudy Eugene who had deep roots in South Florida, with friends, family and a rap sheet.
For the victim Ronald Poppo, 65, however, it’s a completely different story.
At nine years old, Poppo and his family were involved in a serious car accident in New York. A yearbook photo acquired by the Miami New Times showed Poppo went on to become a decorated student at one of New York’s most prestigious high schools, Stuyvesant High.
Then, the family lost touch with him and haven’t heard from Ronald in 30 years.
“Well, I tried to reach him, but I just thought he killed himself,” Antoinette said. “And we really thought he was no longer on this earth.”
Even before he was attacked along the MacArthur Causeway; Ronald lived a tough life among the homeless men who call the space under the causeway home.
His past shows time in New York City, and back in the 80′s in New Orleans; but a long record of arrests for mostly petty crimes places him in the Miami area, at least off and on, as far back as 1978 when he was charged with criminal mischief.
Over the years, he dipped in and out of the courts for the types of crimes that are common when you don’t have a place to live.
In 1983, he was charged with sleeping in public. In 1989, it was violating park hours. Disorderly conduct, assault, petty larceny, and burglary all brought him into court, and then, sent him back to the street.
Poppo was arrested for drinking in public a number of times. When drinking, court records indicate, he seemed to be a bit of a brawler, charged with disorderly intoxication.
Miami-Dade court records show the last time he appeared before a local judge was in 2006, for trespassing.
Court records also show that Poppo was treated for a gunshot wound at Jackson Memorial Hospital in January 1976. He listed his address at the time as a Salvation Army facility on Flagler Street.
His last mug shot in the Miami-Dade courts system shows a grizzled man with a full grey beard and flying hair.
Beyond the stark facts of police reports and public records, all that’s really known about Poppo is that he drank and hung out under the bridge; and on Saturday, he was the central figure in the last minutes of Rudy Eugene’s life.
CBS4 news partner the Miami Herald reported Poppo would stay just outside a public restroom on the north side of Jungle Island. It would take just minutes to walk to the very spot where he was attacked by the Causeway Cannibal Rudy Eugene.
The two men ended up on the bike path along the MacArthur Causeway as Eugene walked from Miami Beach to the mainland.
Eugene was naked and he stripped Poppo from the waist down.
Poppo was bleeding from the wounds he was getting from Eugene, who was ripping the flesh from Poppo’s face in strips. He bit off his nose, sources said and his eyes were gouged.
Alarmed passersby called police and even flagged an officer down, but when the cop arrived CBS4 sources said he couldn’t stop a growling, frenzied Eugene from his attack. So the cop fired his gun until Eugene stopped because he was dead.
Nobody is sure why Eugene attacked, why he was cannibalizing Poppo, or why Poppo was the target of his rage. Much of that was left a mystery when Eugene took his final breath.
Paramedics came and took Poppo to Ryder Trauma Center at Jackson Memorial Hospital, where he’s being treated for the bizarre cannibalistic attack.
Gruesome photos circulating on the web show injuries so profound his chances for recovery seem small, however, sources tell CBS4 News that there is cautious optimism that he will survive.
At 65-years-old and after a life lived on the streets, Poppo’s survival of Eugene’s attack is likely the toughest thing he’s ever faced.
Poppo’s sister told CBS4 she had just recently learned of the attack.
“I’m very upset,” Antoinette said while crying. “I’m just glad my mother isn’t here to see this.”