Broward County

Rappers Lil Yachty, Lil Uzi Vert join thousands of fans at wake for XXXTentacion

Fans say their goodbyes to rapper XXXTentacion

Misel Gonzalez and his daughter Ayanna remember rapper XXXTentacion after flying down from New Jersey to attend his memorial service at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.
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Misel Gonzalez and his daughter Ayanna remember rapper XXXTentacion after flying down from New Jersey to attend his memorial service at the BB&T Center in Sunrise, FL, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018.

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 June 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 thousands 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.

Around noon, fans filed into the arena, waiting for their turn to approach the casket. Rappers Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Yachty, Ugly God and Denzel Curry attended the wake, paying their respects to their contemporary.

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.

Two fans at the front of the line — a mother and daughter from Wisconsin — said they flew to 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.”

Days after arresting a suspect in Onfroy's killing, the Broward Sheriff's Office said Wednesday that investigators are looking for 20-year-old Robert Allen as a "person of interest." The Sheriff's Office released a security-camera still from the day of the shooting that shows Allen was at RIVA Motorsports on June 18, when two masked men ambushed Onfroy. The rapper died after at least one of the suspects shot him.

Inside the arena, photographs and videos of Onfroy were displayed on the overhead screens as his songs played from speakers. TV news coverage of Onfroy’s death and the riot that followed in Los Angeles were interwoven with video clips of Onfroy addressing his fans on social media. In one, he foreshadowed his own death.

Some fans, most of them teenagers, cried as they slowly approached the stage where Onfroy lay, dressed in a denim jacket and maroon pants. Beside his casket was a bouquet of black roses.

A special section in front of the stage was reserved for Onfroy’s family and friends. Simon Bernhard, 17, said he flew to South Florida from Colorado to mourn the rapper’s death.

He said the lines stretching into the parking lot were a sign of Onfroy’s impact.

“There’s like two miles of people here just for him,” Bernhard said. Outside the arena, fans left three framed letters addressed to Onfroy. “Thank you for getting me through some of the toughest times,” one letter read. “Your music became my only source of happiness. We never had a chance to meet, but I still felt you were one of my best friends.”

“You will forever have a home in my heart,” read another. “See you soon. I love you."

Caleb Todini and Tyler Banh both left the venue in tears after paying their respects. "It’s crazy the first time I see him, I see him in a casket,” says Todini, who made the trip early this morning with Banh from Vero Beach. Neither 19-year-old had ever been to a concert, and so Wednesday’s wake was the first time they had seen the rapper in person. “I was crying all the way there,” Todini 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.

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