MIAMI (CBSMiami) – There are still more questions than answers in the wake of one of South Florida’s most horrific crimes, a vicious and gruesome cannibal attack on a Miami causeway in broad daylight which ended only when a Miami police officer was forced to fire on the man believed to be in the midst of a drug-fueled rage.
Police, relatives and friends are still trying to figure out what would cause Rudy Eugene, 31, to attack a homeless man, a complete stranger, and devour 75-percent of his face before getting shot and killed by a Miami police officer.
His mother is speaking out for the first time, saying she wanted to remember her son’s kindness and telling CBS4’s Peter D’Oench that her son was “no zombie.”
“I feel devastated,” said the mother, asking us not to reveal her name or show her face. “That was not him who was seen on TV doing that. He was a nice kid. He was a good kid. He gave me a nice card on Mother’s Day. Everyone says he was a Zombie. He was no Zombie. That was my son.”
“I never had any problems with him,” she said. “The police don’t have to shoot him. They could have tased him. I saw what happened on TV and I started crying.”
“He had two baby brothers,” she said, “and they used to go to church all the time together.”
Rudy Eugene’s girlfriend said the attacker on the causeway was nothing like the man she knew and loved.
“Rudy Eugene was not no zombie or ‘Miami Zombie’ like they’re saying. He was a human being and that wasn’t him,” said the woman, who requested CBS4 News not use her name or show her face.
She described him as a “sweet loving gentleman” and a “hard working man” who worked at a car wash and dreamed of owning his own business.
She said she has no idea what caused the vicious attack but she saw no signs of any violence in the nearly five years they lived together.
“That wasn’t him, that was his body but it wasn’t his spirit. Somebody did this to him,” she said. She described Eugene as religious.
“He loved God he always read the Bible he would give you knowledge on the Bible. Everywhere he went his Bible went. When he left he had his Bible in his hand.” She said Eugene left her home about 5:30 Saturday morning.
She said his last words to her were, “I love you and I’ll be back.”
According to Miami-Dade court records, Eugene did have a troubled past and had been arrested for multiple misdemeanors, mostly marijuana-related charges.
Eugene attended North Miami Beach High school in the late 1990s and played football for his high school team.
Jeff Bertani was his football coach in 1998 and 1999. He told D’Oench that Eugene attended the school for the 10th and 11th grades before transferring to Norland High School and later North Miami High School.
“He was just a normal type of kid that we’ve had over the years,” said Bertani. “He was quiet and well mannered. We never really had any problems with him. I’m surprised about what happened, like everyone else. I never noticed anything that would have indicated there would have been a problem. I don’t think anyone could have predicted.”
Friends described him as funny and friendly and they said he did not suffer from any mental illnesses, according to CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald.
“He wasn’t homeless. He had a place to stay. He had a car, and he worked,” Erica Smith told the Herald. She was a close friend and former roommate of Eugene’s. “He had his ups and downs, but he was not an aggressive person. He was really sweet and giving.”
He graduated in 2000. He lived off and on with his mother and friends and did an assortment of odd jobs, from selling CDs to working at McDonald’s and telemarketing. He last worked washing cars at an automobile dealership, Smith said.
Lately, he spoke of buying his own mobile car-wash business. His own late ’90s model Chevrolet Caprice was discovered Tuesday at an impound lot, after it was towed from South Beach. He had gone to South Beach for Urban Beach Weekend on Saturday but CBS4 News learned when the car wouldn’t start, he walked back to the mainland across the MacArthur Causeway.
D’Oench also caught up with Cheryl Seichrist, the business office manager for the Miami Ad School who discovered Eugene’s abandoned car and called for it to be towed away because it was blocking an exit at her business.
“It freaks me out,” she said. “I had no idea it was his car until you came knocking on my door.”
D’Oench also showed Miami Beach Police detectives where the car was found and lead them to Seichrist. They told him their work was part of the overall investigation of Eugene.
“He was always looking for ways to make money. Not necessarily illegal, but sometimes he got in trouble with it,” his lifelong friend, Daniel Ruiz told the Herald. “But for Rudy to do something that graphic, that aggressive, that violent, that gruesome — that’s what’s really troubling us. Rudy? Really? Rudy? Naw.”
He said Eugene liked to freestyle rap and listen to music.
“He had his little problems, but nothing too dramatic,” Ruiz said. “He was sane.”
Former classmate Cassandra Metayer agreed.
“This is not his character,” said Metayer, who went to middle school and high school with Eugene. “This type of behavior is very unexpected. He was a good person, a true friend. He was a nice, outgoing ready-to-help-anybody kind of guy. I’m not just saying that; he really was that person.”
Metayer said Eugene, the son of Haitian immigrants, grew up in North Miami Beach. In 2005, he married Metayer’s cousin, Jenny Ductant, but they divorced two years later.
Metayer said the two split because they had taken different paths in life, particularly as Ductant continued her education.
The couple’s 2007 divorce record shows he had no income, and his assets included $2 cash and $50 for a cell phone.
She told one local TV station he had a violent past.
Friends believe drugs are to blame.
“He loved his family, loved his friends,” Metayer said. “It had to be drugs; someone in their right mind doesn’t do that. This is not the act of a normal person. It has to be someone under the influence.”
Eugene had repeated trouble with the law.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show Eugene was arrested by Miami Beach police on a battery charge when he was 16, but the case was dropped.
In 2004, North Miami Beach Police had to use a Taser to subdue him during a domestic dispute.
In that dispute, police said Eugene yelled at his mother, saying “You see what I can do?” and “How do you feel now?” during the attack that saw him break a table and shove her out of the kitchen according to North Miami Beach Police.
When officers confronted Eugene inside the home he asked “What-you-gonna-do?” Eugene refused to leave and told one officer, “I’ll kick your ass,” according to the police report.
Charles told police at the time, “Thank God your [sic] here, he would have killed me. She also told police that Eugene told her, “I’ll put a gun to your head and kill you.”
- Click here to read the full police report from 2004
Records show he was arrested seven other times over five years. Court records show that one was for misdemeanor battery, one was for vending near a school, one was for trespassing and four involved marijuana.
His last arrest was in September 2009. In January, the charge was dropped.
Despite his legal troubles and his fondness for smoking marijuana, his friend Erica said he was trying to get his life back together.
“Someone must have given him something really bad. A few days ago he told my brother that he was really depressed and didn’t want to live anymore. He was a guy who just wanted a family and someone to love him.”
Toxicology reports on Eugene’s body have not been completed. Results could take between two weeks and two months.
The head of the Miami Fraternal Order of Police, Armando Aguilar, speculated that he may have been high on LSD or “bath salts,” which can cause psychosis as the body overheats.
Eugene did strip off all of his clothes as he walked from Miami Beach to the mainland over the MacArthur Causeway before encountering 65-year-old Ronald Poppo and beginning the unprovoked, savage attack, an attack that lasted at least 18-minutes and cost Poppo most of his face.
A Miami Herald surveillance video showed Eugene punching Poppo, tearing off his clothes and gnawing at this face before a Miami Police officer shot him at least five times.
Poppo, a homeless man who lives under the Causeway, remains at Jackson Memorial Hospital in critical condition.
(©2012 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)