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TEQUESTA (CBSMiami) — Investigators are trying to find out what caused a college student to gruesomely attack and kill a Martin County couple – even biting off bits of the husband’s face.
“We are going to continue pursuing the blood work, hoping that it does reveal something,” said Martin County Sheriff William Snyder on Tuesday. “The blood work at the hospital did tests for normal street drugs if I could use that term, cocaine, marijuana, opioids. There was nothing present in his blood at that time.”
On Monday night, the sheriff’s office received a call from a person who said he was stabbed while trying to help a neighbor.
When a deputy arrived she found a man, 19-year-old Austin Harrouff, lying on top of another man in the driveway of a home at 19009 Kokomo Lane.
“She immediately closed the gap between herself and that fight and deployed her Taser. When she got there she realized that the offender was actually biting the victim in the face and causing what turned out to be substantial trauma to his face,” said Snyder earlier on Tuesday.
The deputy shot him again with her Taser to no avail. She then tried to physically pull Harrouff off his victim.
“She took a hold of him and tried to pull him off but he was exhibiting abnormal levels of strength, he’s fairly muscular,” said Snyder.
Synder added that Harrouff was a wrestler and in top physical shape.
The sheriff said his deputies did not try to shoot Harrouff because the angles were too close and they were afraid of hitting his victim.
It took several deputies and a K9 to overpower Harrouff and take him into custody.
The victim on the ground, 59-year-old John Stevens III, died in the driveway. His wife, 53-year-old Michelle Stevens, was found dead inside the home’s garage.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the autopsy was completed on Stevens.
“The male victim died of multiple, serious stab wounds and blunt trauma,” said Snyder. “He had serious stab wounds to his head and neck and chest.”
The autopsy on his wife is expected to be completed Wednesday.
As for the neighbor who called 911, he was airlifted to St. Mary’s Trauma Center. Snyder said he underwent surgery on Tuesday and is not in life-threatening conditions.
Steve Fisher, the father of the neighbor who tried to break up the fight, said his son is lucky to be alive.
“Twice here – once here – once in the stab wound in the back and large cut. Thank God Jeff had enough sense to get back into the house,” said Fisher.
Harrouff was also taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center. As of Tuesday afternoon, his condition had deteriorated significantly since the morning and he was in life-threatening conditions.
“Whether he will ultimately survive is just not known at this time,” said Snyder.
Harrouff’s family is torn apart.
“They are overcome with grief and are dealing with the fact of what their son did and now they dealing with the fact that they may lose their son entirely,” Snyder said.
Snyder said when he got to the hospital Monday night, he was making “animal-like sounds and was somewhat incoherent.” Snyder said if he does survive, he will be taken to the Palm Beach County Jail.
Meantime, they are trying to find out if the drug flakka may have had something to do with the attack.
“When we see a case like this, when someone is biting off pieces of somebody’s face, could it be flakka, the answer is it absolutely could be flakka case, we don’t know,” said Snyder. “It will be some time before we get any kind of toxicology report, but I would not be surprised, though, if we end up finding out that is the case.”
Snyder said Harrouff – who is a good student at Florida State University and has no criminal history – was eating with his parents earlier Monday evening when he became upset about something.
“We suspect that after the unpleasantries at the restaurant that he left on foot,” said Snyder. “We understand it was in the direction of his dad’s house. He was in the direction of his father but stops one street short of his dad’s house, turns left which is West and has the fateful encounter with the two.”
After he had left the restaurant, his parents called the police out of concern for their son.
“After he left the restaurant, he was agitated enough that his parents called the Jupiter Police Department to report the occurrence and they wanted him at least located,” said Snyder.
Investigators are questioning Harrouff’s fraternity brothers who at some point in the night, became aware he had become agitated but reportedly did not see him from the time he left the restaurant to the time of the attack.
As for whether Harrouff knew the victims, Snyder said there is no connection between them.
“It does look like it was an unprovoked and completely random attack,” said Snyder. “None of this makes sense. There’s not one thing in this case that makes sense.”
Neighbors said the Stevens were nice, quiet people. They were known to sit in the garage with the door up and it was obvious from the scene that is where the initial attack took place.
“It was very obvious that there was an enormous amount of violence inside that garage and both victims sustained massive trauma on multiple portions of their bodies. There were lacerations, stab wounds, and blunt trauma,” said Snyder.
As for his reaction to the case, Snyder said “I’ve been in law enforcement a long time as a matter of fact close to 43 years and I’ve seen a lot of crime scenes. I was there last night. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything with this much violence, this much aggression, and homicide.”
He went on, “It’s a tragedy without words to describe.”