Ruth Charles could not find a Haitian church in Miami to hold a funeral for her son, Rudy Eugene.
The brutal details of his attack on a homeless man, the roaring headlines, the whispers of vodou or demonic possession, all conspired against Charles, who simply wanted to bury her son with a proper church service and then return to a quiet, anonymous life with a fiance and two younger sons.
The first church said no, followed by the second. The third said yes then backed out. Same for the fourth church.
The news of Eugene's death on Memorial Day weekend was already too well known. He was shot to death by Miami police as he crouched over Ronald Poppo's limp body, naked and growling, chewing off chunks of the man's face. It took several bullets fired by a stunned police officer to stop him. At 31, the son who had carried a Bible, quoted scripture and worn a 4-inch cross on a chain around his neck had become something unrecognizable, known across the nation as the Miami zombie.
Two weeks after Eugene died, a funeral home chapel agreed to hold a service. His mother shuffled into the chapel, sank into a front pew and quietly cried throughout the hourlong service.
"I felt so much frustration. I was angry," said Charles, 57, though she would not name the churches who had turned her down. "They were members of my Haitian community. They turned their back on me."
Yet faith remains a recurring theme in the story of Eugene's life -- and in his horrifying death. It is why he evangelized, led a Bible study for friends and had recently been looking for a church home. It is what sent his mother door to door, looking for a church that would have her son's funeral. It is why police found verses ripped from his Bible scattered across the MacArthur Causeway a few feet from his body. And, perhaps, it is what helps people understand what happened that afternoon.
"Religion and culture are playing a huge role in this story. And because this is very much a story that makes no sense, religion is being used as a framework for understanding," says Michelle Gonzalez Maldonado, a University of Miami associate professor of religious studies. "People are using their belief of evil spirits, of dark and light, to try to explain what happened that day."
Charles' fiance, Raymond Leo, who was with Charles each time a church said no, said she put on a brave face in public but crumbled behind closed doors, overwhelmed by grief and rejection.
"When you're a Christian, you want the funeral to be in the church," he said. "That's the way it's supposed to be."
Before Rudy Eugene became infamous, he was a fairly ordinary guy -- he liked sports, fast cars, action movies. But even those closest to him say Eugene was introspective and private. Now they are left wondering if that quiet shielded something darker, something that drove him to break with reality on a Saturday afternoon in May. Though it was widely speculated that Eugene was under the influence of "bath salts," a powerful synthetic amphetamine that has fueled a handful of grisly flesh-eating attacks across the country, toxicology tests showed Eugene's body was clean except for marijuana. A lingering question remains, though -- especially among experts -- because some synthetic drugs are undetectable. Mental illness could also be factor, though none of his friends or family say they noticed anything that would lead to that conclusion.
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