XXXTentacion’s broad daylight slaying on Monday afternoon in Florida cut short his efforts to turn his life around as he faced domestic violence allegations against a pregnant woman, his attorney tells PEOPLE.
“He had problems, like many young people do, and was getting through them and for the past eight months had been absolutely perfect,” lawyer J. David Bogenschutz insists.
XXXTentacion, a 20-year-old Florida native born Jahseh Onfroy, had in his few years in the spotlight achieved national success as a rapper, including a No. 1 album in the spring.
But his recurring rage — both documented and alleged — marred his brief career, leading to multiple run-ins with the law.
Video from a concert in October showed XXXTentacion hitting a fan with a microphone, which he later said was in self-defense, according to Vulture. Earlier in 2017, according to Pitchfork, he pleaded no-contest to charges of robbery and armed home invasion — for which he was serving six years’ probation — and as of this week was still facing prosecution in connection with his alleged abuse of a pregnant woman.
Charges in that case included aggravated battery on a pregnant victim, domestic battery by strangulation and false imprisonment, and prosecutors suspected he had tried to get the victim to stop cooperating with authorities.
XXXTentacion did not shy away from discussing the violence in his life, once reportedly saying, “I’ve been fighting since I was a kid.”
Appearing on the hip-hop podcast No Jumper in 2016, he recounted in detail how he attacked and strangled a gay cellmate (whom he referred to with a homophobic slur) while they were in juvenile detention, the Miami New Times and Vulture report. During that same interview, he described a tumultuous upbringing, according to the Washington Post.
“My mom just had it hard,” he said. “Raising a kid was her last priority, so what she did, she passed me from hand to hand to people that could care for me. During that, I wasn’t put in situations that were the best.”
Bogenschutz claims XXXTentacion had transformed himself in recent months, becoming friendlier, more respectful and more interested in his music.
XXXTentacion “had reached the point in his life where he had realized this is his life and that’s not something that he squanders,” Bogenschutz argues. “And one of the unfortunate things about this is that he realized that and was moving toward an ability to handle his own life finally, with the help of his mother and some other people around, and it’s less than serendipitous that this was when he was struck down.”
He had reportedly been released from house arrest earlier this year, at his request, so that he could tour and support himself financially while awaiting trial in the domestic abuse case. He faced multiple felony charges for allegedly assaulting a pregnant woman, Geneva Ayala, who identified herself as his ex-girlfriend in an interview with the New Times.
Her abuse accusations were also detailed at length in a 2017 deposition previously reported on by Pitchfork. Ayala said then that, while living with XXXTentacion in Orlando, Florida, he allegedly threatened her life “like every day.”
He punched, kicked, tackled and head-butted her, among other abuse, she said.
Bogenschutz declined to comment to PEOPLE in detail on the domestic violence case against XXXTentacion but noted that he was presumed innocent until proven guilty and that “he was charged with some things that we simply do not believe he did [and] some things are closer to the truth.”
At the time of his death this week, according to Bogenschutz, XXXTentacion was “in the process of reaching a resolution” on the alleged abuse and related charges “that would have permitted him to go on with his life and career.”
Bogenschutz did not describe those efforts further.
The Miami-Dade County State Attorney’s Office, which was prosecuting XXXTentacion for domestic violence, confirms they were working with him on what Bogenschutz called a “resolution,” but the office declined to elaborate.
Asked for comment on the abuse case specifically, a spokesman provided this statement to PEOPLE:
“State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle initially helped Janet Reno create Florida’s first felony domestic violence crimes prosecution unit, she has always espoused the belief that there is never an acceptable excuse or explanation for domestic violence.”
Killing Was ‘Possible Robbery’: Police
Authorities have described XXXTentacion’s shooting as a “possible robbery” as the rapper was leaving a motorsports dealership outside Fort Lauderdale just before 4 p.m. The investigation is ongoing and no suspects have been named.
Bogenschutz spoke with PEOPLE not long after leaving the hospital where XXXTentacion was pronounced dead. He had been there with XXXTentacion’s family, whom he says are holding up “about as well as they can with something as shocking and sudden as this is.”
Even so, Bogenschutz says, the slaying was not unusual in one way: as another example of the ongoing epidemic of gun violence across the country.
“There’s a hole in the music industry because of this, but in the fabric of our society it’s one more rip in the thread,” Bogenschutz says. “Every life is worth a lot more than some people give it credit for.”
Anyone with information about the shooting is urged to call Broward County detectives John Curcio or Walt Foster at 954-321-4210 or an anonymous tip line at 954-493-TIPS.