The turning point of many zombie movies, when the whole storm of the apocalypse begins, is when a person going about their daily life and minding their own business is suddenly overcome with a singular, insatiable desire to lash out and kill in the basest, most animalistic way possible. Grasping, gnashing, snapping teeth, blood, we've seen this time and time again in horror fiction, but what happens when it occurs in real life? What happens when this sort of of spontaneous carnage plays out in the real world? This is not a question that goes without an answer, as in recent years there has been a spike in reports of savage attacks that come from nowhere and play out every bit like a zombie movie, giving us an idea of how a zombie apocalypse, if it were ever possible, might perhaps play out.
A horrifying series of events unfolded in July of 2008 aboard a Greyhound Canada bus on its way from Edmonton to Winnipeg along the Trans Canada Highway. Aboard the bus was 22-year-old carnival barker Tim McLean, who was returning home after working at a fair in Alberta. Along the way, 40-year-old Vince Weiguang Li boarded the bus and sat next to McLean, who was asleep wearing headphones. At some point, Li suddenly and without any discernible reason produced a very large knife and began to mercilessly stab the sleeping McLean in the neck and chest, as the bus driver pulled to the side of the road so that the panicked passengers could escape. The bus driver and some others tried to stop the brutal act but were fended off by the raging Li, who slashed wildly at them. Li, after brutally stabbing the sleeping man, then decapitated him with the knife and showed the head to everyone milling about outside. He also began to cut off pieces of the dead man’s flesh and stuff them into his mouth.
When the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) arrived, Li was stalking about within the bus, being prevented from escaping by the bus driver and several others who had barred the bus doors and were armed with hammers and crowbars. Within the immobilized bus, Li paced about holding the severed head like a trophy and occasionally eating pieces of flesh and “defiling the corpse.” The attacker was also reported as repeatedly saying “I have to stay on the bus forever,” all as the other passengers wept, wailed, and even vomited in response to the grim scene they had just witnessed. Li was finally apprehended when he broke out a rear window and tried to escape, and McLean’s tongue, ear, and nose were found in the perpetrator’s pockets. Various pieces of McLean, including his eyes and a part of his heart could not be found, and were presumed to have been devoured by Li.
In the aftermath of the brutal attack, Li told prosecutors that he had sincerely believed that McLean was a potent "force of evil” and had been about to try and execute him, meaning that in his eyes it had all merely been in self-defense. He would later say that he often heard the “voice of God,” and that he was aware of an imminent “alien attack.” At his trial in 2009, Li was found to be not guilty by way of insanity, and was sentenced to be interred within Selkirk Mental Health Centre. It is an inexplicable and gruesome incident to be sure.
The country of China was seemingly plagued by zombie-like attacks in 2012. In one incident in the city of Wenzhou, in south-east China, a bus driver only known as Dong abruptly ran out onto a crowded street and stopped in front of a vehicle driven by a woman named Du. The woman patiently waited for the man to continue and get out of her way, but was shocked when he jumped onto her car hood and began banging on the hood and windshield while snarling like a beast. The terrified Du leapt from the car to try and escape but was quickly set upon by the seemingly feral, rabid man, who roughly pulled her to the ground and began savagely biting at her face. Passersby described the woman as covered in blood and crying as she screamed desperately for help. Some people approached to try and subdue the rampaging bus driver, but were fended off with a display of barbaric ferocity and seemingly superhuman strength. Authorities who arrived on the scene were finally able to detain Dong, and although it was at first assumed that he must have been on some sort of powerful, mind-melting drug such as PCP, he was only found to have alcohol in his system. Superstitious locals claimed that he had been possessed by a ghost or demon. The victim survived the horrifying attack but required extensive plastic surgery to repair her mauled face.
In that very same year, a similar attack went down on a crowded Chinese subway train. It all started normally enough, when two passengers got into an argument over an available seat on the packed train between a young man and a 67-year-old man. The argument escalated into a scuffle and then all hell broke loose. The older man allegedly flew into an animalistic rage and began to viciously and mercilessly bite the younger man’s face. When fellow passengers tried to intervene, the man turned on them and began growling and snapping at their faces as well, prompting everyone to back off until proper authorities could arrive. Bizarrely, by the time the police showed up the altercation had run its course and both of the men were calm and relaxed, and although the younger man had suffered nasty injuries to his face they both simply apologized and were allowed to go their separate ways with no charges filed.
Interestingly, 2012 was also the year of one of the most infamous and well-publicized such attacks, which plays out exactly like a scene from a zombie movie. In May of 2012, a 31-year-old resident of Miami, Florida named Rudy Eugene suddenly and without warning stripped naked and went on a flesh-eating rampage in broad daylight, quickly targeting a homeless man by the name of Ronald Poppo on the MacArthur Causeway. According to witnesses, Eugene set upon the helpless Poppo, who he did not know, completely unprovoked, and after ripping the victim’s clothes off began to relentlessly gnaw and tear chunks of flesh from his face with his teeth like some wild animal.
When a passing police officer arrived, Eugene was still ferociously ripping apart the homeless man’s face with abandon and ignored repeated warnings to back off, merely turning to snarl at the officer. After several more warnings and an expanding pool of blood fanning out from the grisly scene, the police officer opened fire. According to one eyewitness to the incident, when the first shot hit, Eugene simply looked up and growled like a beast as strips of flesh hung from his teeth and mouth. The policeman continued to fire, and the shots did not seem to do much to deter Eugene at first, and he indeed seemed to merely shrug the shots off until he finally fell to the ground after 6 well placed gunshot wounds, never once abandoning his tireless, gruesome assault. One witness to the surreal, macabre scene by the name of Larry Vega said of the the attack:
The guy was like tearing him to pieces with his mouth, so I told him, 'Get off!' You know it's like the guy just kept eating the other guy away, like ripping his skin. It was just a blob of blood. You couldn't really see, it was just blood all over the place.
Eugene would die of his injuries, and the victim, Poppo, was rushed to the hospital, where it was found that around 80% of his face had been turned into a gory mess, with the left eye completely devoured and only the right eye and the man’s beard recognizable amid the destroyed, bloody pulp that had been his face. Although he would survive, he would forever remain horribly disfigured by the bizarre attack. Authorities at first suspected that the attacker had been high on some sort of mind-altering drug such as bath salts or PCP, which can cause severe bouts of rampaging behavior, aggression, extreme paranoia and hallucinations, as well as displays of seemingly superhuman strength and resistance to pain, which could have accounted for what witnesses and police officers had seen. However, when a toxicology report was finally produced, it was found that Eugene had had only some trace amounts of marijuana in his system, leaving authorities baffled as to why he had gone so completely, violently berserk, or how he had displayed such beastly behavior and endurance in the hail of gunfire he had been sprayed by. The catalyst for the spooky assault and Eugene’s behavior, as well as the prodigious endurance and strength displayed, remain a mystery.
Another recent and fairly well-known attack also occurred in Florida. In 2016, Michelle Mishcon, 53, and John Stevens, 59, of Tequesta, Florida, were out relaxing in their garage which they had converted into sort of a lounge area where they often sat out on evenings, when 19-year-old Florida State University sophomore Austin Harrouff came out of nowhere and proceeded to savagely attack them for no apparent reason at all. Harrouff allegedly stabbed the victims to death before mauling Stevens, and the first thing authorities saw when they arrived at the scene was the attacker crouched over the victim in the driveway, choking him biting pieces of his face off. Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said of the grisly scene:
I have never seen a scene that had this much savagery and this much violence, ever. He was biting the victim in the face area and the abdomen area, and we did recover some remnants of human tissue from his mouth.
Efforts to apprehend the ravenous man were met with shocking displays of sheer physical strength, with Harrouff apparently fending off a K-9 dog and resisting repeated, ineffectual shots from stun guns. Although he was an amateur bodybuilder and a former high school football defensive lineman and wrestler, Harrouff nevertheless displayed a level of strength far beyond what he should have been capable of, allegedly easily throwing police officers off of him like rag dolls and eventually requiring the combined, all-out efforts of four men to physically restrain the snarling, snapping maniac. Not long after, Harrouff, who had suffered severe injuries in the form of bruises, cuts, scrapes, and numerous dog bites, spat out hair and pieces of flesh before slipping into a coma at the hospital, and the speculation and investigation on the bloody and chaotic incident began in earnest.
It soon became apparent that the whole thing had started when Harrouff had been eating at a sports bar with his father and sister. At some point the attacker became agitated about the slow service and stormed out of the bar, finding himself seemingly randomly in the affluent suburb where the victims lived less than an hour later and then attacking them for reasons that remain mysterious. When questioning the mother of the assailant, she told authorities that her son had been acting very strangely in the days leading up to the attack, making proclamations that he was “immortal,” and had “super powers.”
As for what had caused the outburst and freakish displays of strength, it was widely believed that Harrouff must have been under the influence of a potent drug or stimant, such as bath salts or the synthetic drug called “flakka,” which can have many of the same mind-altering effects. People who knew him were surprised by the savage attack and accusations of drug use, as Harrouff had prided himself on not using drugs, not even steroids, he had no previous criminal record, and was described as being a calm and nonaggressive person, to the point where one former high school teammate stated "The coaches would always try to get him mad and play angry, and he never had it in him. I didn't think he would hurt a fly.” According to his school he was a model student who had never had any problems.
When toxicology reports performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory in Quantico, Virginia, were finally released, it was found that there were no traces of bath salts or flakka in his system. The only thing that could be considered drugs that were found were very minimal levels of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, as well as a low level of alcohol and traces of the medication given by the hospital after his arrest. Harrouff was eventually released after 7 weeks in the hospital and was charged. It is at the moment still a mystery as to what caused him to attack a couple of random strangers for no apparent reason at all and with such beastly ferocity and brutal, unstoppable strength.
There is a growing list of such bizarre, violent cannibalistic attacks throughout the world, which often have no rational reason for what could have provoked them. These are people who have no particular criminal record, often no history of drug abuse or violence, and showing no inclination at all that they are about to embark on a sickening, bloody, cannibalistic rampage. It is as if they have been suddenly consumed and beset upon by some hateful, irresistible urge to kill in the most disgustingly brutal way possible. Are drugs to blame, even though none particular known for inducing such violence have been found in their systems? Is it some mental condition or inner demons that have been bubbling under the surface to finally explode forth in a spectacularly gory fashion, even if in many cases the attacker has previously shown no tendency for such a thing? Or is it something else that remains shadowy and ill-defined to us? Looking at these cases, it seems that practically anyone at any time could turn to you and try to bite your face off. Whether these are just scattered, isolated cases or signs of a sinister trend, they are every bit as terrifying as any horror movie, and just as grisly. If there ever were a real-life zombie apocalypse, one imagines that this is just how it might start.