MacArthur Causeway attack victim Ronald Poppo was a high school achiever

The homeless man who lost his face in a bizarre cannibal attack once seemed to have a bright future.

05/30/2012 5:00 AM

09/08/2014 5:54 PM

Long before Ronald Edward Poppo took to wandering the streets of Miami as a homeless drunk and petty criminal, he was a bright teenager attending an elite New York City high school who joked about becoming president.

Records from Stuyvesant High School, class of 1964, list an above-average IQ of 129. A school photo shows Poppo with a thick head of dark hair, dark eyes and a strong chin.

His chin is about the only identifiable feature of his face now. On Saturday, Poppo, 65, lost most of his features in a horrific assault on the MacArthur Causeway.

Police shot and killed a naked Rudy Eugene, 31, as he gnawed on Poppo’s face. Poppo remains in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center.

He turned 65 on May 17.

A sister, Antoinette Poppo, told Miami Herald news partner WFOR that the family hadn’t heard from or about her brother in decades.

After leaving New York, Poppo lived in New Orleans as well as South Florida. He was treated for a gunshot wound at Jackson in 1976, and was arrested two dozen times, mostly for drinking and sleeping in public.

He spent a lot of time around the MacArthur, and is said to have stayed on Watson Island.

“We really thought he was dead,” his sister told the television station. “We thought he was no longer of this Earth.... I’m just glad my mother is not here to see this.”

High school classmates were equally stunned.

Dan Ruvin told The Miami Herald that Poppo, who was in his home room, went on to City College of New York’s uptown campus. He grew his hair long and “might have been in a band,’’ Ruvin said. “He liked rock and roll.’’

Poppo signed Ruvin’s yearbook from the “First Italian in the White House, 1984.’’

According to the yearbook, Poppo belonged to the Latin Club and earned a Bronze Scholarship Certificate.

They lost touch after Ruvin joined the Vietnam War-era military, and Ruvin, who lives in Pennsylvania, said he was “disappointed’’ that no one could track Poppo down when classmates started looking for each other about 2003 — “and we had a lot of good detectives looking.’’

“I’m sorry that’s how he had to go through life,’’ Ruvin said. “I liked him a lot.”

Retired math teacher Barry Feldman, of Fort Lee, N.J., doesn’t recall much about Poppo, who was in “a few classes,’’ except that he was “a nice guy.’’

At the time, Stuyvesant was an all-boys school with about 700 in the senior class.

Poppo signed Feldman’s yearbook: “To a cool guy from the coolest.’’

Among Poppo’s other classmates: Dr. M. Felix Freshwater, a hand surgeon on the University of Miami medical school faculty, who said he didn’t know him.

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