MIAMI

Rudy Eugene Victim Ronald Poppo's Family Didn't Know He Was Alive (PHOTOS, VIDEO)

May 31, 2012 | Updated May 31, 2012

The family of the Miami homeless man whose face was chewed off by a naked assailant Saturday thought he was dead for years, CBS Miami reports.

"I tried to reach him, but I just thought he killed himself,” said Ronald Poppo's sister, Antoinette. “And we really thought he was no longer on this earth.”

Antoinette Poppo said the family hasn't heard from Ronald, 65, in 30 years. Details of his life after he attended New York's prestigious Stuyvesant High School in the 1960s remain scarce, traced in a string of mostly petty arrests, hospital records, and a call to the Miami-Dade Homeless Trust last week from the Jungle Island zoo, where Poppo had been sleeping on the roof of the parking garage. Story continues below.

HOW YOU CAN HELP: The Jackson Memorial Foundation has set up a fund to assist Ronald Poppo in his recovery, which experts in facial reconstruction have said will include lengthy treatment, staged reconstruction, and psychological care. Donations can be made by check or online at jmf.org.

According to the Miami Herald, Stuyvesant's records show Poppo enjoyed an above-average IQ of 129, and a former homeroom classmate said he enrolled at nearby City College before the pair lost touch.

Arrest records show Poppo spent some time in New Orleans before making his way to Miami, where he was shot in Bayfront Park by an unknown "John Doe" in 1976, spending five days at Jackson Memorial Hospital -- the same place he now lies in critical condition with much of his face gone and only one remaining eye.

“I’m very upset,” said Antoinette Poppo, who told CBS she only just learned of the gruesome attack on her brother. “I’m just glad my mother's not here to see this.”

Assailant Rudy Eugene, 31, was shot dead by police after he ignored commands -- one delivered by bullet -- to stop attacking Poppo's face on the westbound downtown exit ramp of the busy MacArthur Causeway Saturday afternoon. Doctors say if his victim survives risk of infection, he faces multiple surgeries and a long, challenging recovery.

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