A 19-year-old Florida State University fraternity brother allegedly stabbed a couple to death then tried to eat part of one victim’s face – possibly after taking the synthetic drug Flakka, PEOPLE confirms.
Austin Harrouff, who initially gave police a fake name, allegedly stabbed a married couple to death on Monday and was found trying to bite off chunks of the man’s face, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder tells PEOPLE.
“What pushed our Florida State student into this? We do not know,” Snyder said at a Tuesday press conference after identifying the man.
Snyder tells PEOPLE that the first deputy arrived at the scene in the driveway of the couple’s Tequesta home and “the suspect was on top of our victim, clutching him in a bear hug and biting him in the face.”
“[The deputy] shot him with a taser … that didn’t work,” he says. “Another deputy got there, two deputies, and they engaged the suspect and they said they used every bit of strength they had.”
He added: “It was an impossible task to get him off of the victim. And another officer from a nearby municipality arrived and deployed a dog on him to try to get him off. Then finally, after minutes of fighting, they were able to get the offender off of the victim, but the victim was dead.”
The deceased are John Joseph Stevens III, 59, and 53-year-old Michelle Karen Mishcon, who neighbors told PEOPLE were a “loving couple.”
Snyder says that Harrouff allegedly attacked the couple as they sat in their “open garage,” and called the incident a “random” and “unprovoked” attack. He said deputies found the woman dead in the garage.
Harrouff has been charged with one count of aggravated battery but will be charged with home invasion and two counts of murder. However, Snyder says, there is a chance that Harrouff could die in the hospital as a result of either “sustained trauma” from officers or a drug overdose.
“He’s heavily sedated … last night he was intubated, so he was getting assistance to breathe,’ Snyder tells PEOPLE.
He does not have a lawyer and has not entered a plea. Snyder says police have not determined a motive for the attack.
Harrouff was out to dinner with his mother and father at around 8:30 p.m. prior to the attack, but allegedly became upset about the "slow service” and stormed out of the restaurant, Snyder tells PEOPLE. He said at the press conference that this prompted his fraternity brothers to go searching the neighborhood for him.
“He walked from that restaurant and, for reasons we do not know, inexplicably turned down the residential street where our two victims lived,” Snyder tells PEOPLE, noting that the couple is known to sit in their garage with the door open at night.
“[He] apparently attacked both of them with a knife that he was known to carry,” the sheriff says. “He carries a switchblade. He began stabbing and assaulting both the husband and the wife.”
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The sheriff said at the press conference that Harrouff was “abnormally strong” during the alleged attack. Harrouff was taken to a hospital where, Snyder said, he made “animal-like” – noises including “grunting” and “growling” – and was somewhat incoherent.
Evidence showed that the male victim tried to fight back, and that multiple weapons were used in the attack, Harrouff said.
Snyder said the man suffered an “unusual amount of trauma,” suffering stab wounds and blunt force trauma to the body and head.
The incident bears eerie similarity to the gory 2012 case of Rudy Eugene, who bit off parts of a homeless man’s face, according to the The Miami Herald. In that case, the victim lived. And while Eugene was first rumored to be on a different drug, bath salts, a blood tests showed he only had marijuana in his system.
Snyder said Monday that police have to wait for completed toxicology reports to determine whether the suspect in Monday’s incident was on drugs. But he said he “would not be surprised” if the man was under the influence of flakka – a psychoactive stimulant that has been linked to bizarre behavior and drug overdoses.
“When you see a case like this where someone is biting off pieces of somebody’s face, could it be flakka?” Snyder said. “The answer is it absolutely could be a flakka case.”
He noted that Harrouff’s core body temperature was not elevated like it would have been if flakka was involved. He tells PEOPLE that he exhibited several symptoms evidenced in flakka users, but initial reports found that he was not on cocaine, methamphetamine or marijuana.
Snyder said at the Tuesday press conference that no evidence indicated that the suspect knew the victims.
A neighbor who tried to intervene was stabbed by the suspect as well and was being treated at a hospital Monday night, Snyder said.