Classmate describes face-eating man as 'nice gentleman'

Miami - Members of North Miami Beach High School class of 2000 have a message they would like to share: classmate Rudy Eugene was the kind of friend you called to help lug furniture or cheer you up on a bad day.

He sported a beautiful smile. The former North Miami Beach High football player "was not a face-eating zombie monster," said classmate Victoria Forte.

Eugene, 31, was positively identified as the man who went on a crazed rampage Saturday on the MacArthur Causeway. Witnesses said a naked Eugene mauled another nude man's face and was stopped after several blasts from a Miami police officer's gun.

His faceless victim, who police sources identified as 65-year-old Ronald Poppo, is hanging on to his life at Jackson Memorial Hospital's Ryder Trauma Center.

The story of the flesh-eating beast in Miami quickly went viral, as such news-of-the-weird tends to do. But those who knew Eugene say they were stunned to learn of Eugene's involvement, because the description of the enraged cannibal gunned down in broad daylight bears no resemblance to the person they knew.

"Classmates from Naples, Orlando to Miami cannot get over this," Forte said. "There's been an overwhelming response. We are going to do our part as his friends to not let him go down like this. The Rudy we know was a nice gentleman with a warm smile and funny. He's not like that at all."

Eugene must have been on some kind of drug that made him take a fast downward spiral, she said.

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," she added. "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," she added, remembering the time he moved furniture for her relatives by himself.

Metayer said Eugene, the son of Haitian immigrants, grew up in North Miami Beach. He was a football player who Forte said was best known for cracking jokes and a warm smile.

In 2005, he married Metayer's cousin, Jenny Ductant, in Hollywood, Fla. They divorced two years later. Metayer said the two split because they had taken different paths in life, particularly as Ductant continued her education and Eugene did not.

Eugene, she said, worked in customer service.

The couple's 2007 divorce record shows he had no income, and his assets included $2 cash and $50 for a cell phone.

His former wife agreed to take on the couple's debt, which included the power and phone bills.

"I don't want to talk about it," Ductant said Tuesday when reached by phone. Metayer said Eugene wasn't known to use drugs or have mental problems.

"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."

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.

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.

His death unfolded Saturday afternoon at the foot of the exit ramp to the MacArthur Causeway that spills out onto the Miami Herald parking area.

Security Guard Christian Alvarez, 36, patrols the Herald lots for U.S. Security Associates. On Saturday, he was on golf-cart patrol at the east end of the visitor parking lot when he says he heard four or five gunshots.

He drove the cart to the roof of the parking garage and "saw two guys laying down. One had his face all damaged and bleeding, but he was still alive."

Alvarez heard the victim moaning and saw him trying to sit up. The dead man appeared to have three or four gunshot wounds to his back, he said.

Alvarez said that the way rescue personnel handled the injured man bothered him.

"They grabbed him by the leg and pulled him to the stretcher, like garbage," he said. "I didn't like that."

Miami Herald security guard Leonard Nicanor was in the employee-entrance security booth about 2:15 when Alvarez called to say he'd heard gunshots. The parking garage camera was not aimed at that exact spot, but at 2:17, Nicanor turned the camera toward the scene and watched on the monitor inside the booth.

"I saw police activity," he said. Then he zoomed in and saw "bodies," and kept the camera there.

He sent Alvarez to the top of the parking garage.

Photos taken at the scene showed Poppo, who is believed to be homeless, was left with gruesome injuries.

He has a record of at least 24 arrests going back to 1978, mostly for drinking in public and trespassing, but also a handful of felony arrests for burglary, assault and resisting arrest.

The record suggests that he's been on the streets a long time: He was arrested for sleeping in public in 1983.

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