Until he exploded in cannibalistic rage late Monday night, Austin Kelly Harrouff appeared to be a gentle giant: a good student at Suncoast High School in Riviera Beach, a powerful athlete on the wrestling and football teams. He was about to enter his sophomore year at Florida State University, where he was studying exercise science.
“Austin used to be a quiet kid,” a fellow student at Suncoast and FSU who knew Harrouff at both schools said in an email Wednesday. “He’s actually nice, which is why this is so shocking to everyone …not the type of person you would expect this from. Overall his life seemed healthy and on the right track.”
But there were also signs of trouble for the 19-year-old student. A YouTube channel containing multiple videos of Harrouff contains the statement: “I’ve got a psycho side and a normal side. I’ve lost my mind help me find it.”
“I know what’s right for me. I don’t need drugs,” Harrouff says in a video on bodybuilding on the channel, which features music videos under the name AustiFrosti. A friend confirmed that the videos were of Harrouff.
“I used to think I needed steroids to be a bodybuilder, to be this thing, to be this symbol, to be this lie.”
On Monday evening, Harrouff stormed out of the Duffy’s restaurant where he was having dinner with his parents in Jupiter, then trekked three and a half miles in the August heat to brutally attack a middle-aged couple, John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon Stevens, whom he encountered in their garage hangout in their Tequesta home. Three police deputies had to wrestle down Harrouff, grunting and making animal-like noises as he gnawed at Stevens’ face.
On Wednesday, Harrouff, according to a spokesperson for the Martin County Sheriff’s Department, was stable and conscious and under armed guard in an unidentified Palm Beach County hospital, where he had hand surgery. Martin County Sheriff spokesperson Tricia Kukuvka said they were working to charge Harrouff with two charges of first-degree murder and aggravated battery on a Good Samaritan — Jeff Fisher, a neighbor of the Stevens whom Harrouff stabbed multiple times when he tried to help the couple.
The Sheriff’s Department said in a release that initial tests showed no sign of street drugs such as marijuana, heroin or cocaine. Harrouff’s blood, DNA and hair have been sent to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for further testing, including testing for the synthetic drug commonly called Flakka. Test results normally take one to three weeks, although deputies have asked for expedited results. Autopsies of John and Michelle Mishcon Stevens showed the cause of death as multiple injuries and blunt force trauma, the sheriff’s department said.
There were signs of trouble leading up to Monday night’s breakdown. Harrouff’s parents are divorced, and neighbors of the home where Harrouff was living with his father, dentist Wade Harrouff, this summer, say he seemed aggressive and rowdy. One neighbor told the Herald they often saw Austin partying with friends in the backyard. Another said father and son had screaming fights in front of the house.
Harrouff’s mother, Mina, called 911 after her son abruptly left the restaurant Monday. Harrouff’s mother told police her son had gotten into an argument with his father at Duffy’s and that he had been acting strangely for approximately a week, saying that he “was immortal,” had “super powers” and “was here to protect people,” according to the Jupiter police report.
“It’s like he just — changed,” his mother told the 911 operator.
He was last seen in white shorts, a blue polo and a red Make America Great Again baseball cap.
But Mina also told police her son did not have a history of mental problems and was not a heavy drug user; the mother as well as Harrouff’s sister told police he was a “nice young man who would not hurt himself or anyone else.”
That gentle portrait clashes with what happened Monday night. Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Harrouff attacked the couple as they were relaxing in what they had called their “Garage-Ma-Hall.” The muscular student stabbed the 50-something pair multiple times with a large pocket knife he often carried, as well as other instruments he found in the garage. When police arrived, Michelle was already dead, and Harrouff kept tearing at Stevens’ face despite multiple Taser shots and the use a police K-9. The attack appeared to be random, Snyder said.
Harrouff gave a very different impression in a statement on a college athletic recruiting website during his senior year of high school, while he was attending a rigorous International Baccalaureat program at Suncoast, a highly rated U.S. high school in Palm Beach County. He said that he had a 3.35 grade point average, was 6-2 and weighed 200 pounds, could bench press 365 pounds, and wrote that he was “one of the strongest” on the school’s football team, where he played offense and defense. He was on the weightlifting team and captain of the wrestling team.
“I would be a great asset to your football team,” he wrote. “I love the competitiveness of the game and I have the drive to improve.”
But at FSU, home of the Seminoles, one of the country’s top college football teams, Harrouff did not play football or participate in any other sports team. He joined the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, where the Instagram account for the FSU chapter features a video of a wild-looking “Animal House” party last April. A Twitter account registered to @AustinHarrouff has only eight entries. The FSU freshman became more outgoing. “He went from not saying a word to anyone to smiling and saying hi and talking,” his friend wrote in an email.
Harrouff’s father, an implantology and cosmetic dentist, has been disciplined four times by the State of Florida Board of Dentistry, for misdiagnosing or mistreating patients, with consequences that included fines and remedial courses. Wade Harrouff also has been arrested twice for DUI, in 2011 in Juno Beach and in 2012 in Lantana. In the Lantana case, he pleaded guilty, received a year probation and was fined, according to records from the Florida Highway Patrol.