What You Thought You Knew About The 2012 Cannibal Attack In Miami Was Totally Disproved

On May 26, 2012, 31-year-old Rudy Eugene drove to South Beach, Miami (per CBS News). It was Urban Beach Weekend, and he was going to participate in the festivities. But his car broke down on the way there, and Eugene ended up walking three and a half miles. His route took him across the MacArthur causeway, where a 65-year-old homeless man named Ronald Poppo lived.

The Miami Herald (via web.archive) reports that Ronald Poppo had been living on the streets off and on since at least 1999. He usually refused help from outreach workers, instead choosing to sleep on Watson Island. He abused alcohol and occasionally needed mental health support. Poppo was chronically homeless, but he was independent. But that day, Poppo would have a run-in with Eugene that would become a sensational news story — a cautionary tale about the dangers of a drug called bath salts.

Per Playboy (via web.archive) around 1:53 p.m. that day, a bystander called the police. Describing Eugene, he said he a man was "acting like Tarzan," hanging stark naked on a light pole. Eugene was getting worked up and angry, certain Poppo had stolen from him. Eugene said to Poppo, "I'm gonna kill you. It's just you and me. Nobody else here."

Eugene's attack lasted 18 minutes

Then, The Miami Herald (via web.archive) reports that around 2 p.m., Rudy Eugene committed an unspeakable and tragic attack on Ronald Poppo. Naked, Eugene attacked Poppo for more than 15 minutes. Per CNN, Poppo was resting in the shade below the bridge when Eugene grabbed him and started to rip his clothes off. Poppo kicked at Eugene, but as security footage later showed, Eugene still spent many minutes tearing at Poppo's face with his teeth.

And as ABC News reports, as police and a crowd of onlookers shouted at him to stop, he growled at them. By that point, Poppo was seriously injured: about 75% of his face had been eaten off, leaving only his goatee behind. Witnesses reported that Eugene was tearing and eating the face, spewing blood everywhere. Ending an agonizing 18-minute attack, police shot Rudy Eugene, killing him, per CNN.

According to CBS, Eugene might have attacked Poppo because he believed the man had stolen his Bible. Eugene was described by his friends as a highly religious person who often attended services and posted scripture quotes on social media (via Fox News).

Clues in Eugene's car, but no answers

Aside from marijuana, Rudy Eugene wasn't known to be a drug user (via Fox News). His family said he didn't have a history of violent offenses. However, ABC News reports that Eugene's ex-spouse said that he had been violent in the past.

Just two days before the attack, Eugene had attended a friend's Bible study group, according to The Miami Herald (via web.archive). Friends called him the "preacher," because he was known to be devout. He was so moved by the group that day that he posted a Bible verse on his Facebook page, and told one friend that he was going to stop using marijuana. 

Police found five empty water bottles in Eugene's car, making them wonder if extreme thirst was a clue to what drug he had consumed, reports CBS. Per ABC News, several ingredients needed to mix up a batch of bath salts had been banned just a year before, but the drug was still so new at the time that doctors were unable to test their patients for it.

Was Eugene actually on bath salts?

This extreme "Florida Man" story became sensational for its absurdity — and fear over what could cause a man to become the "Miami Zombie" (per NPR). ABC News reported that he appeared to be high on bath salts because he took his clothes off and seemed extra strong and unstoppable. People speculated that Eugene was on some kind of strong psychotic drug that made him irrational and uncontrollable. Per Slate, some outlets were declaring this zombie drug to be the next LSD. 

According to Playboy (via web.archive), this was at a time when "The Walking Dead" was a popular TV show, so zombies were already on people's minds. Copycat events began happening around the United States as other folks tried bath salts, and also got hot enough to take off all their clothes and bite the nearest person. The media ate up the hype over bath salts, but they got it wrong. 

We may never know what exactly caused Rudy Eugene to attack Ronald Poppo (via Fox News). There are so many emerging synthetic drugs that scientists can't develop tests for all of them. But one thing is for sure: Eugene was not taking bath salts as the original reporting stated. The only drug Eugene had consumed was regular marijuana (per WPBF).

Bath salts fell out of fashion after the 'zombie attack'

Researchers reminded people that bath salts don't cause people to become zombies or cannibals, as Miami New Times reports. Regardless, it was still too late to stop this new widespread belief. After the 2012 cannibal incident, people widely stopped using bath salts as a drug — they didn't want to turn into zombies.

As for the victim of the gruesome attack, per WBPF, Ronald Poppo had a long road to recovery after the grisly attack. His face was very badly damaged. He lost his nose, both eyebrows, and one eyeball in the vicious assault. He was also missing chunks of his cheek and forehead — he apparently refused to get a prosthetic nose or eyes, per The Miami Herald (via web.archive). Two years after the attack, he was still receiving medical care via a long-term medical care facility and undergoing surgeries (per WBPF). Thanks to $100,000 in donations and being on Medicaid, Poppo plans to stay there for the immediate future.

According to the Miami Herald, Poppo preferred to live a quiet and reserved life — so much so that his own family had had no contact with him for the past three decades. They were stunned to learn that 65-year-old Poppo was not only alive but had been the victim of a shocking attack. 

While in the hospital recovering, he did not allow visitors. He had to relearn basic skills, like how to shower and feed himself, and in his free time, he likes to play guitar.