By Nadege Green And Rene Rodriguez, McClatchy Newspapers –
MIAMI — Family and friends gathered Saturday to say a tearful goodbye to Rudy Eugene, whose body lay in a silver and gray casket topped with white blossoms centered in front of Miami’s Grace Funeral Home.
The person that everyone remembered Saturday in a two-hour memorial service was Rudy Eugene, a loving relative, a close friend — not the crazed, naked man, now known as the “Miami Zombie” or “Causeway Cannibal” who shocked the world with an attack so bizarre that it still defies explanation.
No one at Saturday’s service could understand the situation that led Miami, Fla., police to shoot their loved one several times to stop a vicious attack on a homeless drifter named Ronald Poppo, leaving his face horribly disfigured.
This was Rudy Eugene, 31, who was “the type of person who would give you his last,” his younger brother, Markenson Charles, said to the crowd of about 150. “If he had it, it was yours.”
Charles described a big brother who would pay his cell phone bill, and even throw in a little extra cash when money was tight.
“Those are the moments I cherish the most, him being a big brother to me,” Charles said.
Ruth Charles, dressed in a black and white polka dot skirt and white blazer, shuffled slowly to the front pew, past her son’s casket.
With her head bowed and tears streaming down her face, she swayed from side to side. Hers were the bitter tears of a mother losing a son to inexplicable circumstances.
The memorial program handed out at the service commemorated the life of “a boy who aspired to be the best, to a man who was focused on enjoying his piece of the American dream” by owning a car detailing business.
“His ambition, tenacity and unwavering belief in God would have been enough for his dreams to become a reality,” the program read.
A friend in a black and purple dress broke down in uncontrollable sobs as she clutched the program.
“Rudy wake up, wake up, wake up,” she shouted,
Those closest to Rudy called him “Sweat.” The moniker came from him having sweaty palms, but also because he wasn’t afraid to work hard, his brother said.
“Rudy was always a very affectionate person,” said Charles. Sometimes, he would tell his brother to cut it out and stop hugging and kissing him.
“What I wouldn’t give for a kiss right now,” he said, his eyes red with tears.
Pastor Keny Felix, who had known Eugene since childhood, when the youth attended Sunday school at Bethel Baptist Evangelical Church, told the crowd to remember Ronald Poppo, the 65-year-old man Eugene attacked.
“This morning, I ask, as you grieve, you remember Mr. Ronald in your prayers,” he said.
The grisly case, which drew international attention, started when passersby reported seeing a naked man swinging from a pole, then walking across the MacArthur Causeway. Eugene apparently came upon the homeless Poppo, who was in a shady spot on the sidewalk. Eugene ripped off Poppo’s clothes and began biting his face. The attack went on for nearly 18 minutes. Police arrived and ordered Eugene to stop. He lifted his head and growled at them. They shot him multiple times.
Poppo, who lost most of his face, including an eye, remains in critical condition at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami since the attack.
The hospital’s foundation has created a fund to assist Poppo. Donations can be made online.
For mourners at Eugene’s memorial service, the tragedy was deeply personal, because of its incomprehensible nature.
“Losing a loved one is a very painful experience, even more painful when it’s unexpected and when it doesn’t make sense,” Felix said.
Eugene’s relatives had purposefully kept details of the funeral service secret until Friday night, because they wanted the last moments to be shared with those who knew him best.
As mourners filed out of the funeral home, Ruth Charles looked back at her son’s casket.
In between her anguished sobs, all she could manage to say was, “Ay yay yay yay! Rudy.”