Ronald Poppo before the attack. (Source: Nicholas Carlesi)
MIAMI (CBS4) - As Ronald Poppo, the homeless victim in the brutal MacArthur Causeway cannibal-style attack, continues to fight for his life at Jackson Memorial Hospital, an aspiring young photographer is remembering how Poppo looked before he was viciously mauled.
Nicholas Carlesi captured what may have been one of the last photos of Ronald Poppo before most of his face was chewed off. The close-up snapshot, edited in black and white, shows 65-year-old Poppo's face back in April.
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"All he said was 'Yeah, you can take a picture,'" Carlesi said. "He smiled, and said, 'All right, no problem man.' Then he left."
An aspiring professional photographer, Carlesi told our sister station CBS 4 News he constantly has a camera in-hand.
"In a week I take a couple hundred pictures," Carlesi said.
The 21-year-old college student said he snapped the picture of Poppo with his iPhone camera while waiting to pick up his girlfriend from her high school prom at Jungle Island.
Carlesi said something about Poppo caught his eye.
"He seemed like the happiest homeless person I've ever met," Carlesi explained. "He honestly didn't even seem like a homeless person by the way he talked."
He filed the picture away in his computer, and didn't think much of it until this week, when one of his friends connected the dots.
"He put the picture on my Facebook and he called me and said, 'I think you took the picture of this guy.' And then I went and analyzed them and I called a couple of my friends, and they all agree, like we all agree it was the same person."
Witnesses to the brutal attack along the MacArthur Causeway called 911, unaware at the time Poppo's face was being chewed off.
"There are these two bums that were going at it with each other, taking up the whole lane," one caller told the dispatcher. "I think they're fighting or something."
"That was the craziest thing I ever heard," Carlesi said when her first heard the grisly details. "I've never even seen anything like that. I saw the picture of him, and I said there's no way someone can do this to another person."
While pictures of what some are claiming to be Poppo's mauled face are circulating on the web, Carlesi hopes the photo he took is how people remember the homeless man.
"I hope they don't think he's a crackhead bum that everyone portrays him to be," Carlesi said. "I hope they see him as a normal person that was happy, that didn't have as much as anyone or most people, and still could walk around with a smile on his face."
A picture has been circulating on the web showing what some are saying is Poppo's mutilated face. Police and hospital officials say they are looking in to how the photo may have leaked.
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