A man whose face was chewed off in a gruesome daylight attack was in a stable condition in hospital on Wednesday.
According to anonymous sources at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital, Ronald Poppo, 65, is expected to live despite losing about 80% of his face, including his nose and left eye, in the attack by 31-year-old Rudy Eugene.
Eugene, from Miami Beach, was shot dead by a police officer called to the downtown causeway on Saturday after reports of a fight and of a naked man ripping strips of flesh from another person’s face.
Homicide detectives were continuing to try to piece together the circumstances of the bizarre incident on Wednesday as photographs said to be of the homeless victim at the scene and later in the emergency room appeared online.
In one picture, apparently taken in the hospital, all that is left of the man’s face is a beard and his right eye, with the rest of his features blurred into a bloody red pulp. The photograph’s source cannot be confirmed but the injuries shown match those described by police and eyewitnesses on Tuesday.
In the other photograph, from the side of the road at the MacArthur Causeway and featuring police or fire rescue officials, two men are seen lying side by side on the ground in pools of blood, one appearing to be the naked dead body of Eugene.
Detective Willie Moreno of the Miami police department told the Guardian that his department had not authorised the release of any photographs or identifying information, although the Courthouse News website claimed that “police and hospital workers showed grisly photos from the hospital and crime scene”.
Moreno said: “We are investigating this as a police-involved shooting and will be continuing to reach out to individuals to help us work out what happened.” He refused to comment on suggestions from police union officials that Eugene might have overdosed on drugs. “What the fight was about, we have no idea at this point.”
One theory is that Eugene, a divorcee with a history of mental problems and arrests for possession of marijuana, might have taken a mind-altering drug nicknamed “bath salts”, a popular LSD alternative said to give users superhuman strength and a sense of invincibility but which can trigger aggression, extreme paranoia and hallucinations.
The results of toxicology tests are not expected to be available for several weeks.
Police and hospital officials are not releasing details of Poppo’s condition pending notification to his next of kin, but a Jackson Memorial Hospital worker told Courthouse News that he was stable on Wednesday, having been admitted in a critical condition on Saturday. “He’s definitely going to be disfigured, but he will recover,” the worker said.
Poppo, who is expected to remain in the hospital’s intensive care unit for some time, was a longtime drifter who lived in a tented city close to the causeway, according to the Miami Herald.
He also has a long history of arrests and was the victim of a shooting at a waterfront park in Miami more than a decade ago, in which his attacker was never caught.
Surveillance video from the causeway on Saturday suggests that the two men did not know each other. Footage shows Eugene walking alongside the causeway naked for several minutes before he encountered Poppo, who was lying on the ground, and set about him.
Eugene is seen stripping Poppo almost naked before crouching over him, and more than 15 minutes pass before the first police car arrives on the scene.
Miami police officer Jose Rivera fired six shots to stop Eugene, who ignored a command to leave his victim alone and who, according to eyewitness Larry Vega, looked up at the officer growling and with a strip of flesh in his mouth even after being struck by the first bullet.
Jenny Ductant, who married Eugene in 2005, described him as a troubled man. “I wouldn’t say he had mental problem but he always felt like people was against him. No one was for him, everyone was against him,” she told Miami TV station ABC-WPLG.