Episode Three: Family feuds and a strange video
Florida Files speaks to XXXTentacion's mother, stepsister
When someone dies, watch out for family squabbles. Over money, over a will, over the person's belongings. Long lost family members come out of the woodwork. There are fights and family feuds, but most of all, the person at issue isn't around to tell their side of the story.
Therefore, it's a ferreting out of the facts versus the perspectives from those who are alive. Add to the mix that the person who has passed away has amassed celebrity.
He's a young, up-and-coming musical artist, which means managers, records deals and the potential to be a cash cow, if he isn't already.
In this day and age, fans also have a stake in this game. With social media, celebrities engage fans in their lives, air their "truths," put themselves out there.
Broward County rapper XXXTentacion, whose real name is Jahseh Onfroy, tells Papa Keith on a 103.5 interview in 2017: "I would act out on (social media) on certain things to market myself. … I used it as a platform. I remember I got into a fight at Taco Bell -- jumped over the counter when someone robbed, well not robbed, but stole from my homeboy."
He posted it on social media.
"I started using the media and really studying what can I market," he says. "Sex sells, drugs sell and, obviously, music sells."
Keith asks him: "Do you feel a way that you had to resort to things that are deemed negative overall to get that sort of attention?"
"If you want me to be honest, right now evil is winning," XXXTentacion answers.
XXXTentacion bonded with his fans, through talking directly to fans live on social media videos, checking in daily. In one post, he addresses them: "OK, guys, this is what I want to explain today. In the amount of time I have been alive, experiencing love for that matter … To have self-love while loving is a very important thing."
His words are almost prophetic of his future outcome: "Listen, take advantage of time. It's not always in your favor."
When Jahseh Onfroy was shot and killed on June 18, 2018, while leaving a motorsports store in Deerfield Beach, his death was only the beginning. Since then, conspiracy theories over his murder have run rampant. Through noise and a family feud, his mother, Cleo Bernard, says she's staying committed to keeping his legacy alive.
Ariana Onfroy is two years older than her stepbrother, Jahseh. They share the same father, Dwayne Onfroy, who was featured on previous episodes of the Florida Files.
She's attending Howard University in Washington, D.C., when Jahseh, now known as XXXTentacion, has a song "Look at Me," which he had uploaded to SoundCloud in 2015, enters the Billboard Hot 100. Meanwhile, he is embroiled in legal troubles following an incident in October 2016 in which his then-girlfriend Geneva Ayala says she was punched and kicked by Onfroy.
"We were good," Ariana says of her relationship with her brother. "He was doing his music and having different shows in different states, and he was going to have a show in D.C., and I was like, 'You should come by to Howard and check it out and we can spend time together in D.C.' That was the plan. Then he got locked up and then things changed quickly after that. Our relationship was never the same after that."
On Sept. 18, 2018, the Sun newspaper in London publishes a story with a headline: "XXXTentacion's sister claims rapper's murder was set up by a member of his inner circle." Digital U.S. correspondent Emma Parry interviews Ariana Onfroy for the "exclusive."
"It definitely was an inside job," she tells the newspaper. "Because of how calculated everything was."
The Sun, known as a tabloid newspaper, sometimes pays its sources for their stories. After queries to The Sun and the reporter responsible for the story, I was unable to get confirmation if this was the case in the aforementioned exclusive. Ariana doesn't want to comment.
The reporter also doesn't follow up on any of Ariana's claims with statements from investigators. The Florida Files contacted Broward Sheriff's Office detectives working the case to see if anything Ariana makes public in the Sun story is being looked into, if they are investigating anything further than the four suspects now in jail, accused of killing Jahseh Onfroy for $50,000 in $100 bills in cash that he was carrying in a Louis Vuitton bag.
Broward County state attorney's office officials confirm that the BSO has handed over their case files to their office for further investigation.
Ariana says due to legal issues she cannot comment if she has gone to the police about what she thinks happened, that someone knew where he was going to be, and sent a text or made a call to send the four robbers to ambush him.
BSO detectives say they have spoken to Ariana about her claim. A BSO detective working on the case tells me that there is no evidence thus far to prove that someone close to Jahseh Onfroy murdered the rapper.
A Florida grand jury indicted four men on first-degree murder and armed robbery charges in the shooting death. On July 19, 2018, the Broward County panel formally charged Dedrick Williams, 22; Michael Boatwright, 22; Trayvon Newsome, 20; and Robert Allen, 22. Those men remain in jail.
An inside job?
The statement in the Sun was adamant. I ask Ariana why she is certain that her brother was killed by someone close to him.
"Growing up my mother has always watched these investigative channels," she says. "She's into 'Law and Order' and all these different things and stuff like that. I see a lot of things like that, and just by the situation and how everything happened and all the things I was told after his death and how he died from those that were closest to him, it doesn't sit well with him. Things that were going to occur before he died and then suddenly he died. Because a lot of things that were going to happen, I see that those around him would be threatened. I don't remember him being in any controversy with anyone at that time."
The Sun story uses in its headline the word "members," causing many to believe that Ariana was pointing the finger at someone from the Members Only collective, the South Florida group of rappers formed by XXXTentacion in 2015.
"I want to make it clear, I wasn't even looking toward any of his friends, not that it's not possible, because I can't eliminate anyone -- I don't know them personally," she says. "I met them at the funeral, then when I stayed at his home. I stayed in his home for a few days. I was humbled to know these people. At the end of the day they were the people around him when I wasn't."
She does acknowledge that she tells the Sun she believes the killer or killers were someone in her brother's "inner circle."
"We have to remember that my brother was dealing with legal cases that were coming in to play in his life, which is why I feel as though those that were around him knew what was going to happen in regards to those things," she says. "So they took the next step to do whatever they did. I could be totally wrong. I'm not God and I don't know everything, it's just I feel it in my heart. Just the way people are acting now since his death, a lot more people seem happier that my brother is gone than alive. They don't seem to be mourning the way they should be mourning."
Also in that Sun newspaper article, Ariana tells the Sun reporter that she's going to pursue legal action after being banned from her brother's grave. Banned by Jahseh's mother, Cleopatra (Cleo) Bernard.
The owners of The Gardens at Boca Raton tell the Florida Files that they perceived an Instagram post in which Ariana Onfroy invited people to gather at her brother's mausoleum as something that would turn the private resting place into a public spectacle.
They send to the Florida Files operating procedures and a picture of a sign posted outside of the grounds: "In an effort to protect the peace of the grounds and the privacy of our families, any unauthorized activity will result in ejection from the property. No unauthorized photography. All videography prohibited."
They tell me when someone purchases a mausoleum it becomes their property, and the owner can decide who is allowed on their property.
Bernard purchased the crypt for her son's body.
"I can take that fault where maybe I shouldn't have posted it online and ask permission first to see if it would be OK," Ariana says. "Due to my knowledge, I was told that hundreds of fans come there each day and go to his mausoleum every day, and people are there playing music. I wasn't going to do anything different from that. Even the day I set it up for, I ended up going to the mausoleum anyway even though they told me I wasn't allowed because I knew that it would be my last time going to see my brother. I knew that once I went there, that would be my last time and they would tell me I was no longer allowed on the property. When I went there, only about five or six people came. And only four of them actually saw the post. My platform is not that big for hundreds of thousands of people to come to the mausoleum."
Ariana showed up at The Gardens, accompanied by an unnamed friend who was a police officer. The officer was not in uniform, Ariana says, but was carrying a gun.
"I brought my friend, who is a police officer, when I was threatened by the owners of the mausoleum that I would be arrested for coming," she says. "I was told that the owner would have security there. Me wanting to protect myself, I made sure to bring protection for myself. It was done in the proper way and they are allowed to carry a concealed weapon. They are allowed to do that. They have a license. And they did that for me as their friend to be there, to be the middle man, to be that person who is of the law, to know what is right and what I can and cannot do. We did not go there with any intensions. I didn't know how much security they were going to have. And mind you, as well, my brother just passed away from being shot to death, so I have to protect myself at all times."
Jahseh and Ariana's aunt, Diandra Onfroy -- Ariana says she's estranged from her father's sister -- confirms that Ariana is banned from visiting the crypt.
"People are laid to rest here," Diandra says. "She wanted to do something publicly. That wasn't the place to do it, and that wasn't how you do it. She's making it seem like she was banned for no reason. It wasn't about wanting to play music. It was in respect to other family members laid to rest there. She saw it as, 'This is my brother's property, and go meet me,' and put out to the public an address that was private. And inviting people there. That could have been bad."
Reliving the day of the shooting
Bernard has stayed quiet in the days since her son's death. She posts updates on Instagram about the upcoming birth of a grandson in November and about the XXXFoundation, a not-for-profit that came out of the rapper's Helping Hand Challenge and Lend A Hand Foundation that her son began before his death.
But she remains steadfast that she isn't speaking to media. She echoes that again when contacted for this episode of the Florida Files. She says she is working on a project about her son and that's one of the reasons for keeping the focus off of her, and, because she says: "Some days are more difficult than others."
She says she had to relive the death of her son all over again when surveillance video was released during court proceedings in late September for one of the men arrested in her son's shooting.
On Sept. 27, 2018, prosecutors presented surveillance video that showed Robert Allen in the alleged getaway vehicle when co-defendants Michael Boatwright and Trayvon Newsome jump out of the 2017 Dodge Journey carrying guns.
Allen's attorney argues in court that his client should be granted bond since he did not get out of the car, nor did he pull the trigger. A judge rules that Allen would remain behind bars despite the argument. Boatwright, Newsome and a fourth suspect, Dedrick Williams, are also being held without bond.
Cleo Bernard is now running the XXXFoundation that she says grew out of Jahseh's evolution of becoming a philanthropist.
On the weekend after his death, a charity event by his Helping Hand Foundation went on as planned.
Before he was killed, he was planning a food giveaway in Liberty City.
"He passed that Monday," Diandra says. "On that next Saturday morning, with everything going on, Cleo had been to the hospital that week. We still went out there. We tried to hold it together as best as we could. We had a great turnout for it. It was pulling the last bit of anything you could just to make sure we did fulfill what he wanted to do. He left his mom and other people in positions they were already in, and they were left where they were by him. It wasn't just, 'Let me do this now.' This was who Jahseh was growing into, grew out of, and was evolving into. He wasn't an average 20-year-old. He made business decisions and family decisions. He made decisions and he stuck by them."
On Oct. 1, 2018, a press release arrives announcing a raffle for the XXXTentacion Foundation. It says that Bernard has partnered with Florida artist Derick Myers, better known as Bankrupt, to raise money for the XXXTentacion Foundation. Bernard says the nonprofit organization "provides every dollar we receive to underprivileged children and their families" in memory of her son.
The first time Myers painted a portrait of the rapper it was done for an "Instagram shout out." Myers said he was heartbroken when Onfroy was shot and killed five days later. He decided to give it to Bernard.
"I came over to give it to her and we ended up clicking really well and we talked about how her main mission is to carry on the good work that her son was passionate in," Myers said. "I agreed that I was super into that, too, and would love to do anything I could to give back."
Myers paints a second portrait of XXXTentacion, and he and Bernard decide to raffle it to use the money to fund the foundation. At about 7.5 feet tall and 5 feet wide, he said it's the largest piece he has ever made.
"It will be a one of a kind," Myers said. "This design won't be reproduced ever again."
And the mausoleum is part of the prize package. The all-expenses-paid trip to South Florida for the raffle winner will include a visit to the Gardens of Boca Raton for a guided tour with Cleo through X's crypt.
"Jahseh would give the shirt off his back," Diandra says. "He wanted to help as many people as he could. His ultimate goal was to literally change the world. The philanthropist side of him was there from the beginning. He wanted to help kids. He just didn't get to experience the initial kick off. All of these things were in motion before he passed. There's still music. Cleo is working to keep that legacy, and that's the ultimate goal. It's not about the drama. It's not about who should get this and who should get that. Let's focus on the legacy and what could be so much better of what he has to offer in the afterlife."
Ariana says she's planning on starting her own foundation dedicated to her half-brother, which will focus on mental-health issues.
"Yes, I do have plans on creating a foundation in regards to bringing awareness to mental health," Ariana says. "I feel as if being a black woman and seeing the way mental health is dealt with within the black community, it needs to be addressed and soon, because a lot of these young people within our community, and not just within our community, but around the world, are dying from suicide, are putting themselves in risky situations, which are causing them to lose their lives. I don't want to speak too much about it because I don't want to give away my ideas."
She says during the course of the interview that she feels she was the one who was there for her brother when other people weren't. I ask her if she feels that she should have benefitted from her brother's success and subsequent passing.
"My brother should have been here to this day to come and fix our relationship," she says. "Come and speak to me about whatever he was feeling so we could move forward from it, so there's nothing that anyone can do now to make it better for me. No. I tried to keep my brother in my life while my father was gone (father Dwayne was incarcerated for nine years). Regardless of the things that people said about him, I still wanted to make that known to him. I just want to be his sister and to be respected as his sister -- to be shown that love that I continuously gave to him throughout these years. I just want respect."
The same day the raffle is announced, so is the last video by XXXTentacion, "Moonlight," to accompany a single released previously bearing the same name. In the video, he's walking through a moonlit woods, where people are partying and dancing around him, but he is just smiling and glancing at them, not interacting. He passes by a curly haired woman that is, no doubt, supposed to resemble former girlfriend Geneva Ayala, the one who made claims of domestic abuse. At the time of his death, Jahseh Onfroy was facing 15 felony charges stemming from those allegations. Those charges were dropped after his death.
Slung across his chest is that gray Louis Vuitton bag -- the same one that his killers took on June 18, 2018.
XXXTentacion's video director James Pereira, who is known simply as JMP and was behind "Look at Me" and the latest "Moonlight," explains how this posthumous video came to be.
"It was a big weight off my shoulders because it was the last project that I was able to work on with X," Pereira says. "It took an extra effort because it was never finished. That's the big interest. What is this video? What does it mean? Why does it look the way it looks? Because it was never finished. Everything Jahseh put out was genius. If it wasn't genius, he scrapped it. It doesn't matter if thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars was spent. He put something out when it was really genius and it was exactly the way he wanted it to represent what he wanted to say. Finishing 'Moonlight' was a tough thing for me because I had to work with, what in my eyes, was an unfinished project."
He continues: "Everything happens for a reason and in my life I've strongly believed that. Everything was left. Everything was shot. The scenes ended the times they needed to end. Things that were never shot were missed for a reason. And I think the footage that was left behind for me to work with for 'Moonlight' was exactly what was meant to be left behind. The original idea as genius as it was, with how everything played out with Jahseh not being here and being just left with footage of a dark jungle-lit party with Jahseh walking, and him looking over everybody and people aren't paying attention to him -- it's this weird vibe. That's what it ended up coming out to be. At the end of the day, the video holds a lot more meaning than I ever thought, because this was not the original treatment, but because of the way everything played out, I feel that the treatment wrote itself."
Pereira says this is a video that everyone should see.
"When we shot that video, he was at a great point in his life," he says. "He was making a huge change for himself, helping everyone else around him, supporting everyone else's dreams, because he got to the point where he felt like he was really accomplishing goals and he had the resources, so he started supporting everyone else and focusing on himself. (Jahseh) was on the fast train to being a phenomenal person."
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