“Rudy was sweet and kind,” she said, “the type of dude you want to be with forever. He was my heart.’’
As friends and family try to piece together Eugene’s final hours, a few of the gaps have been filled in. The evening before the attack, Christian, Eugene’s longtime friend, said a troubled Eugene came over to visit Christian’s brother.
“My brother said Rudy didn’t look right,’’ Christian said. “[Eugene] said he needed to talk to [my brother] about something but never got a chance to say what it was.”
The next morning, Cross said, Eugene was up about 5 a.m. scouring their closet for something, leaving heaps of clothing strewn across the room. He kissed Cross on the lips and walked out the door carrying his King James Bible and a brown book he used to jot down scriptures.
“It felt like he was searching for something,” she said. “I don’t know what.”
Hours passed. Cross began to worry. It was unusual for Eugene not to check in. She said she called his cellphone dozens of times, tried his friends and finally drove the familiar streets of North Miami hoping to spot his 1995 Chevy Caprice nicknamed, “the purple monster.’’
As Cross searched for Eugene along State Road 7, he had somehow made his way from South Beach — where his car was later found — to the west end of the causeway. Around 2 p.m., he came upon Poppo, 65, who has spent three decades on Miami’s streets. Poppo was in a shady spot along the off-ramp to Biscayne Boulevard next to the Miami Herald building. Eugene began to attack Poppo, ripping off his pants and nearly destroying his face in a relentless 18-minute assault partially caught on Herald surveillance video.
Poppo and Eugene had crossed paths before. A few years ago, Christian said he and Eugene were doing community work feeding the homeless, and the two of them met Poppo
“Poppo seemed like a nice and kind man,” said Christian, 34. “I remember when we gave him food.’’
It wasn’t until two days after the attack that Cross and Eugene’s family would learn the man shot by police was Eugene. That night, Eugene’s mug shot from an earlier arrest — bearded, blank expression — was leading the news, had gone viral and would later become the gruesome punch line of jokes about a Miami zombie cannibal apocalypse.
Friends and family were left reeling, forced to ask if something in his past — the questions about his father, the aimlessness, the casual drug use, his troubled spiritual state — somehow figured into the attack.
“What he fell into, to get into this situation, I don’t know,” said Melimon, tears welling in his eyes. “I wish he were alive so he could tell me [what happened] ... He always told me, ‘Daddy, I’m going to make it.’ ”
Among the clues he left behind was a Quran in his car and a Facebook page, filled with religious references. An April 22 entry is garbled, confusing: The Lord side to my Lord. Sit at My right hand. Till. I make. Your enemies Your footstool.
In the weeks before Eugene’s mother returned to her job at a nursing home, she began to take small steps toward healing, running errands, trying to ignore the mean comments about her son and family. Then, during a visit to a nail salon, Ruth Charles overheard a stranger discussing her son, loudly offering her opinion about how Eugene ended up on the causeway, naked and violent.
It was Vodou, the woman explained matter-of-factly, claiming Rudy came from a line of Haitian practitioners of Vodou and was under a spell.
“The mom is a manbo. His dad is a manbo. The family just took him to Haiti,” the woman said, referring to the Haitian term for Vodou priest or priestess. Charles said she sat there stunned by the lies. Eugene had never even been to Haiti and her family did not practice Vodou.
“They talk so much crap,” she said. “It hurts to hear.”
Closing their doors to a grieving mom
Charles had always been a deeply spiritual woman who attended Sunday service and sang in the choir. So at first, she refused to believe that a church wouldn’t hold a funeral service for her son.
She started by calling churches in Little Haiti and Northeast Miami. Then she tried in person, a mother’s singular plea.
On the third attempt, a week after he was dead, she found a Little Haiti church that would allow her to hold her son’s final farewell. She planned a sermon, testimony, eulogy and songs — in the company of those who remembered Eugene before the attack.
The pastor took her deposit. But two days before the service, he told her his congregation and church leaders did not feel comfortable having his body in their church.
That afternoon, she found another church, blocks away, still in the heart of the Haitian community.
Less than 24 hours before the service, that pastor called and cancelled, too.
At that point, Charles made a hard decision. Her youngest son, Marckenson, sent out a mass text message again to those planning to attend. The service would be held in the chapel of a funeral home.
“I believe that we can all agree in this room what happened two weeks ago on Saturday ending Rudy’s life is not consistent with who Rudy was,” said Pastor Keny Felix of Bethel, who was one of the speakers at the service. “The events of May 26 remind us that we live in a broken world. We live in a dark world.”
Eugene is buried in a corner of a cemetery in Miami-Dade. His girlfriend visits his grave, with its simple stone marker and artificial bouquet of purple and yellow blossoms, to remind him that he was loved, that he is forgiven and to somehow get closer to the truth.
“What happened to Rudy had to be supernatural, something humans cannot explain, something that leaves us with a lot of questions,’’ she said. “I just wish he would come to me in a dream and answer all the questions. I wish he would tell me what happened that day.’’