MORRIS COUNTY, New Jersey - Ronald Poppo's estranged daughter was shocked Thursday to discover that the homeless man whose face was chewed off by an attacker last weekend in Florida is the man who abandoned her when she was two-years- old.
When the New York Daily News tracked down Janice Poppo DiBello, 44, she called her mother to confirm whether the 65-year-old victim she saw on TV was her father. It was.
"Nobody ever heard anything from him, so I've never met him," DiBello told the Daily News near her Morris County home. "I didn't know if he was alive or dead."
Poppo, who was a decorated student at New York City's prestigious Stuyvesant High School, dropped out of college in late 1966, two years before his daughter was born, reports the paper.
"I have nothing to say," ex-wife Theresa Chesler told the Daily News. "We were divorced, probably in 1970. And nobody's heard from him since then."
The newspaper reports that Poppo's life quickly spiraled down into a hazy mess of alcohol and arrests after he relocated from the city to Florida. He was reportedly sleeping beneath an overpass Saturday afternoon when Rudy Eugene brutally assaulted him and chewed off about 75 percent of his face.
His daughter told the Daily News that she tried tracking him down 15 years ago while working with public records and a police officer, but the trail quickly went cold.
"Nothing ever came up, so I thought he was dead," she said.
DiBello said she and her mom left the city for New Jersey when she was five. After her mother's remarriage, DiBello always considered her stepfather as her dad.
Now she knows that her estranged father is in critical condition at a Florida hospital, the same hospital that treated him for a gunshot wound while he was homeless in 1976, according to the Daily News. But she's unsure about making the trip down south to visit him.
"I'm still in shock about everything," she said.