Fans of XXXTentacion sing in line, then say farewell to slain rapper at Broward arena

Jahseh Onfroy, better known by his stage name XXXTentacion, was mourned by fans and loved ones during a memorial service and viewing held for the slain rapper at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.
Jahseh Onfroy, better known by his stage name XXXTentacion, was mourned by fans and loved ones during a memorial service and viewing held for the slain rapper at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

An arena that’s home to hockey and concerts opened its doors Wednesday to fans and loved ones of the Broward County rapper and singer XXXTentacion, who was shot to death outside a motor sports shop last week.

The 20-year-old rapper, whose given name was Jahseh Onfroy, died on July 18 after he was ambushed by two masked men outside RIVA Motorsports and Marine in an apparent robbery. Police have arrested one suspect and are looking for others

A snaking line of hundreds of mostly teenage fans and supporters gathered outside the entrance to the arena more than two hours before the memorial was scheduled to start. Onfroy’s music and voice blared from speakers outside, as fans crossed their arms in X-shapes and sang along.

His mother briefly acknowledged the crowd, but did not say anything. Reporters were allowed inside but no cellphones or cameras were permitted. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies patrolled the area.

Albert Lopez, 17, says he remained “heartbroken” a week after the murder.

“I felt like he knew him as a brother,” Lopez said Wednesday as his friend gyrated to Onfroy’s “Sad!” in line.

Christian Soler, 22, had listened to a few of Onfroy’s hits, but says he wouldn’t describe himself as a devoted fan. Still, he said, growing up in Deerfield Beach, the tragedy “hit home.”

“He was part of the community,” Soler said. “I just want to show respect.”

Music_XXXTentacion_79285.jpgThis undated mugshot released by the Miami- Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation Department shows rapper XXXTentacion. Following his death on June 18, 2018, XXXTentacion has topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Sad!” and his two albums have landed in the Top 10.(Miami- Dade Corrections & Rehabilitation Department via AP)
Many of those arriving were local like Soler, but the two fans at the front of the line — a mother and daughter from Wisconsin — said they flew into South Florida to feel closer to one of their favorite rappers.

Sandy Rivas, 56, of Brookefield, Wisconsin, was joined by her daughter Christina Rivas, 15, a high-school student. Christina said she started listening to Onfroy around 2016, and liked how he spoke at large about topics — depression, love — other rappers may stray away from.

“It feels like he’s family,” Rivas said. “He just touched everyone.”

They brushed aside the allegations Onfroy faces.

“We’re all humans, we all make mistakes,” Rivas said. “Whatever he did or didn’t do, that doesn’t matter.” Christina said ever since Onfroy’s death, she has visited the memorial outside RIVA Motorsports and Water twice to lay candles and pay her respects.

She has been listening to his music nonstop since. Her favorite is a song Onfroy had never fully released, titled “Bad.” “Really sad,” she said.

Onfroy, a popular but controversial young star of the hip-hop scene, has been praised by rap elder statesmen like Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West.

But the rapper left behind a murky legacy marred by allegations of domestic abuse, namely his 2016 arrest in Miami-Dade County on felony charges of aggravated battery of a pregnant woman, domestic battery by strangulation, false imprisonment, and witness tampering.

His arrest came three months before his break-through song “Look at me!” — which had been previously released on the music-sharing site SoundCloud, was officially released as a digital download. The song would eventually peak at No. 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has since been certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Following his death, a debate has brewed online between Onfroy’s devoted fanbase, which tends to skew young, and critics about whether it is appropriate to celebrate the rapper’s life or mourn his death without mentioning the allegations he was still fending off in court. Following his initial arrest, Onfroy was hit with 15 additional charges — including witness tampering and witness harassment — in December 2017 stemming from the domestic abuse case.

A hearing in the case is scheduled for Thursday, and Onfroy’s defense attorney said his client’s charges will almost certainly be dropped because of his death.

In March, Onfroy’s album “?” debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard album chart.