Crime

FSU student accused of face-eating attack didn’t seem to know his victims

Harrouff
Harrouff

Austin Harrouff was inside a Tequesta sports bar with his mother and father Monday waiting for dinner to arrive when something caused the teenager to snap.

For reasons unknown, investigators say the 19-year-old Florida State University sophomore stormed out of the Duffy’s Sports Grill on Indiantown Road, walked more than three miles past manicured lawns and palm trees, up a driveway on Kokomo Lane and into John Stevens and Michelle Mishcon Stevens’ garage, where he brutally attacked husband and wife as they wound down the evening together inside their garage-turned-lounge.

When the first Martin County Sheriff’s deputy arrived, Michelle was dead, and a shirtless Harrouff was on top of her husband, biting flesh from his face as he lay in the driveway. It would take three deputies, multiple Taser shots, and a police K-9 to drag away the muscular attacker, according to Sheriff William Snyder.

The savage and apparently random double-murder — eerily reminiscent of the so-called Causeway Cannibal attack four years ago in Miami — jarred even the most hardened homicide detectives who responded to the scene Monday night and brought further tragedy to the prominent South Florida family of former North Miami Beach Mayor Jeffrey Mishcon. Investigators are now trying to determine what set off Harrouff, a job that may require explaining the unexplainable.

“One of the first things we try to do at our crime scene is begin to understand the motive of the offender,” Snyder told reporters during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “In this case we can’t establish a motive. There’s just … I don’t know. We just don’t know what was going on in his mind, and he’s sedated now so we’re not getting any statements from him.”

Part of what vexed investigators Tuesday, Snyder said, is there was no evidence Harrouff knew his victims — including a neighbor who survived after being stabbed while trying to stop the attack. It’s possible that the couple, who’d been married 19 years, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What is clear, police say, is that most nights, John, 59, and Michelle, 53, would relax in their garage, which they’d converted into a lounge. Bob and Sunni Olson, friends who lived down the street, said the Stevens often spent evenings parked on a big couch the Olsons gave them long ago.

The interior of the Stevens’ “Garage-Ma-Hall,” as they called it, included an old rug, foosball table and the wall-mounted head of a deer John found dead one day along the side of Island Way, the road that meanders past their home on Southeast Kokomo Lane and toward Indiantown Road. The couple kept the door open, and sometimes neighbors would bring by folding chairs on Sundays to watch the Miami Dolphins and Atlanta Falcons.

“Every day Michelle got home from work and they would sit in the garage and hold court,” Bob Olson said.

That’s what the couple was likely doing around 9:20 p.m. when police say Harrouff happened past. Investigators, however, were still trying to understand what drove him to the house — and what drove him mad.

Read More: ‘Grunting’ suspect in face-eating attack on a random rampage, deputies say

What they knew as of Tuesday evening, is that Harrouff, an Alpha Delta Phi fraternity brother studying pre-exercise science at FSU, had traveled back to South Florida with several fraternity brothers and was in Tequesta visiting his mother and father, who live separately in the area. According to Sheriff Snyder, Harrouff was with his parents at Duffy’s at 6791 W. Indiantown Rd. around 8:30 p.m. when he began to act erratically and suddenly stormed out.

“I think the meal was slow in getting there and [he] actually walked away,” Snyder told reporters.

Harrouff’s father, Wade B. Harrouff, lives close to the restaurant. But his son didn’t walk to his house. When his parents became concerned, they called Tequesta police, according to the Palm Beach Post. Snyder said Harrouff’s friends began to look for him.

Duffy’s issued a statement Tuesday, saying, “The restaurant is working closely with the Martin County Sheriff’s Office to support their investigation and will continue to assist law enforcement in providing them with the assets they need.’’

Shortly before 9:20 p.m. Monday, Austin Harrouff happened past the Stevens’ three-bedroom, two-bath stucco home at 19009 SE Kokomo Lane, and set upon them inside their garage. Snyder said Harrouff stabbed at the couple with a large pocket knife friends said he often carried. When investigators searched the garage, Snyder said they found evidence that Harrouff had also attacked the couple with a series of other items inside the garage, which he referred to as “weapons of opportunity.”

The couple, he said, fought back.

“From every indication there is no connection between suspect and victims,” he said. “It does look, inexplicably as it sounds, like a completely unprovoked and random attack on two people who were sitting in their open garage.”

At some point, a neighbor across the street, whom WPTV has identified as Jeff Fisher, saw the attack and tried to stop it. But Harrouff was extremely strong and fought him off, stabbing him at least three times. Fisher fled and called 911 around 9:20 p.m.

“There’s a young man beating up a woman across the street in a garage,” Fisher told a dispatcher somewhat calmly, between gasps for air. “I’m bleeding profusely at the moment. I don’t know what happened. I got stabbed.”

Fisher said Harrouff was wearing shorts and a T-shirt. But according to Snyder, the first deputy to respond to the neighbor’s call found Harrouff with his shirt off, typical in drug-stimulant abuse cases when the body’s temperature may be elevated.

Harrouff was biting Stevens’ face, Snyder said. The deputy fired her Taser, but Harrouff continued to attack. Then two more deputies arrived in their car and unleashed a K-9 unit, who tore at Harrouff, who was unfazed.

Finally, the three deputies — unable to fire their guns for fear of striking Stevens — were able to pull him away together. The sheriff said investigators have tested to see if Harrouff had drugs in his system, particularly cocaine or Flakka, narcotics associated with psychotic and violent outbursts.

“At some point we’ll have a full analysis and know exactly what was in his bloodstream,” said Snyder, who said Harrouff was at least cognizant enough after he was taken to a hospital to give police a fake name.

John Cunha, Oakland Park Fire Rescue medical director and assistant director of emergency medicine of Holy Cross, said Monday’s attacks could be due to a psychotic break, which can come in the late teens and early 20s, or, as Snyder pondered, “excited delirium” brought on by stimulants.

“It’s like taking speed and losing your mind at the same time,” he said.

In 2012, Miami police initially suspected Rudy Eugene had suffered from excited delirium brought on by the ingestion of bath salts, a kind of synthetic cocaine, when he randomly attacked homeless man Ronald Popo and gnawed on his face after walking across the MacArthur Causeway. But toxicology results showed no trace of the drug.

Eugene was killed by police, and the motive of the attack remains a mystery.

“We’re all in the same boat,” Snyder told reporters, “trying to put this thing together.”

For now, friends and family of the Stevens are left to mourn their friends. John Stevens, who attended Miami Killian Senior High, is survived by a daughter, Ivy Stevens, who works in a salon nearby. Attempts to reach Mishcon Stevens’ father, the former North Miami Beach mayor, were unsuccessful. Mishcon also lost his wife, Patricia, at age 53 when she died of heart failure while taking a since-banned diet drug, fen-phen.

But friends poured out love on Facebook on Tuesday for the slain couple, who loved to fish and owned a chocolate Labrador named Rebel.

“God has gotten another angel today,” wrote Teal Travis.

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