What? Face-eating man who might be religious?

A friend sent me the bizarre news about the naked man shot to death while he was chewing off a homelessman’s face and said “Sound like demons?” linking to Mark 5. Yeah, so I’m guessing your average reporter knows next to nothing about demons, but I was curious to see how it would play out in the media.

Play out it did, and media outlets generally provided explanations of various drugs and quoted pundits using the drug hooks for their own purposes.

Then the Associated Press interviewed the attacker’s girlfriend, who has a few things to say about religion.

Yovonka Bryant said Rudy Eugene never showed any signs of violence during their four-month relationship. They often read the Bible and the Quran together, and often watched a religious television program in the mornings.

Bryant, who was questioned by police after the attack but is not under investigation, described Eugene as a Christian who wanted to know more about the Muslim faith.

“He would never leave without it, his Bible, and his Quran was always by his side,” Bryant said. Eugene would place the Bible on top of the Quran on the passenger seat of his car, she said.
“He was just figuring out the Quran. He just really picked up the Quran and was trying to actually get into it as he was into the Bible.”

As a reporter, what would do with that information? It’s hard to know how deeply a four-month old girlfriend would actually know about her significant other’s actual faith, but let’s go on to read more.

His girlfriend said she thought someone may have slipped Eugene a drug, but she did not say why she thought that.

Bryant, a single mother of three, said she never saw Eugene drink and only once saw him smoke marijuana at a party.

Court records show Eugene had several arrests on marijuana-related charges. His brother has said Eugene sometimes smoked marijuana but didn’t drink much or use hard drugs.

Bryant, a billing specialist for a certified public accountant, hired celebrity attorney Gloria Allred to arrange a news conference “because she thinks it is important that the public know the truth about Rudy Eugene and her relationship with him,” Allred said.

OK, so if his girlfriend says she saw him smoke marijuana once, but he’s been arrested on several related charges, how does that go together? And if she thinks someone slipped him a drug but she did not say why she thought that, did a reporter follow up and ask? Why is she hiring all these people? Something feels wrong here, a story that feels too incomplete to file.

By itself, the story feels a little bit weak. It feels like it needs further voices or explanation from authorities instead of standing alone with the new updates about what the girlfriend says. Here’s where I ask GetReligion readers to weigh in. What do you make of all of this?

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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  • Dave

    I’d be interested in a tox screen on the body of Eugene. The narrative has a druggy feel to it and, whether he was slipped it or ingested it willingly, it would be a prime datum to know what (and whether) it was.

  • NMH

    I think he was on serious mind-altering drugs, not marijuana. I don’t buy the “demons” argument because it’s too often an excuse, not a reason (the devil made me do it, therefore I’m not responsible).

    However, religion and drugs is as bad a combination as driving and drugs, so there could be a religious angle. Still, I think some kind of serious drug abuse is the primary cause for this bizarre behavior.

    A third angle? Dude, it’s Florida. These things ALWAYS happen in Florida. Always. There’s a reason why Carl Hiaasen’s books are so funny — no one doubts for a second that they couldn’t be true.

  • sari

    A third angle? Dude, it’s Florida. These things ALWAYS happen in Florida. Always. There’s a reason why Carl Hiaasen’s books are so funny — no one doubts for a second that they couldn’t be true.

    Blame it on transplants, dude, not the natives–a genuine Florida Cracker.

    His behavior reminds me of the old angel dust days. PCP brings on delusions and aggression.

  • Jerry

    There are a certain group of insane people who believe that they are being told by God or some force to commit heinous crimes. Sometimes drugs are also involved. I don’t have enough real facts to judge here, but this appears to be one such case. This puts a burden on reporters to properly frame such stories with sufficient background to not rush to make judgements on one hand but also to have any religious elements put in proper context on the other hand.

  • Les

    In the last article I read on this story, Eugene’s girlfriend implied he may have been influenced by ‘a Voodoo curse’.

    http://news.yahoo.com/fears-grisly-drug-fueled-violence-grip-miami-233206821.html

    I wonder why she is lawyering up and why I haven’t read any articles mentioning the results of a tox screen or when these results will be available. Worse still, I wonder why I keep reading articles on this story and maybe that is why it keeps popping up. We keep reading about this so journalists keep writing about it.

  • Martha

    “What to do with a face-eating man who might be religious?”

    Y’know, part of the reason I frequent this joint is because of headlines like that one :-)

  • sari

    Les,
    Tox screens run from general (an hour) to specific (30 or more days), depending on what’s being tested for and the desired level of accuracy (percentage of false positives/negatives). The more specific the assay, the longer the time necessary to process the sample. One might test positive for opiates after eating a poppy bagel, but then test negative on more specific tests for heroin (morphine), codeine, and all their various analogs. In addition, some metabolic disorders and illnesses can skew initial outcomes. A diabetic teetotaler may test positive for alcohol, for instance. I would not expect immediate results in a case like this, especially if he showed no or low levels on a general tox screen. Whatever the results, they must be incontrovertible to hold up in court.

  • sari

    Yes, Jerry. Let us never forget Andrea Yates. Religion played a part, but so did mental illness and lack of spousal support.

  • http://www.davidathey.com David A

    What to do with a face-eating man who might be religious?
    Pray for his soul.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks, David. I was more wondering about how a journalist might write this type of piece. What a strange, strange story.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    The Andrea Yates case involved more than spousal non-support; he actively isolated her, which is a form of abuse.

    I thought the stories about this case skipped too lightly over the possibility of mental illness. It’s like they jumped as quickly to drugs as Sarah’s friend jumped to demons. Serious, persistent mental illness can be extremely subtle and there are several hints in his history that suggests he was in a psychotic break that may have been a long time coming.

    Of course, mental illness, drugs, and demonic possession are not mutually exclusive, but I don’t expect a relatively brief AP article to go down that twisty road. :-)

  • http://www.davidathey.com David A

    I think a journalist (and law enforcement) will have to look at three possible causes of the attack: drugs, mental illness, demon possession. Could be all of the above. But I don’t think this attack could have been caused by reading holy writ, as some people have suggested. It’s a story that could take a long time to reveal the fullness of the truth.

  • Marie

    Unless he was a Rasta I don’t see how the pot smoking and religion thing jive. Whatever Eugene was, it seems to be vague and the “religious” angle looks weak.

  • http://authenticbioethics.blogspot.com AuthenticBioethics

    Some people think the drug “bath salts” could be responsible for Eugene’s behavior. http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/health/2012/06/03/bath-salts-drug-viewed-as-emerging-threat-following-miami-zombie-attack/

    I’m not sure what to make of the religion angle, although digging deeper sound like a reasonable plan. It seems though like a case of a guy with religious sensibilities who got ahold of something like bath salts.

  • sari

    One thing baffles me. Tox screens will determine whether or not he was under the influence of something, bath salts or otherwise. Law enforcement will provide records of arrests/detentions. Intensive interviews with those closest to him may offer a window into his psyche and help suggest/rule out psychosis. Many, many mentally ill individuals self-medicate with illicit substances rather than deal with the stigma of mental illness or the side effects of psychopharmaceuticals. But who can prove, to any reasonable standard, the existence of demons, here or elsewhere?

    In addition to specifying her and his faith tradition(s), the churches they attended and televised ministry they watched, the reporter should have delved into their respective ethnic backgrounds. Miami-Dade County (the actual city of Miami is tiny-tiny) has large populations of people from the islands who still practice indigenous faiths in tandem with mainstream religion. Many residents are far more comfortable with Voodoo-Zombie than with a more factual (and provable) science angle.