(CBS) – Laquan McDonald aspired to better himself in the months before he was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer in October 2014.

His shooting and death — caught on widely viewed police dash-cam video — has led to seismic change in Chicago, the firing of a police superintendent and the launch of a federal civil-rights investigation.

But what do we know about the life of Laquan McDonald?

“There’s so much that we don’t know even, with what we know. Why was he on 41st and Pulaski that night?” says Rufus Williams, the CEO of not-for-profit BBF Family Services on Chicago’s West Side. “He was obviously constantly looking for something, looking for something that most children should just have.”

At just three years old, McDonald became a second-generation ward of the state. It was the first of three times the state’s Department of Children and Family Services intervened in his life; two were for abuse allegations.

“The entire system failed him, whatever that system would be,” says Williams, a former chair of the Chicago Board of Education.

“I have children in our center who went to middle school with Laquan, so what we see and what we know, every day, is that anybody could be him,” he says.

Court files show McDonald was “a very playful and interactive little boy.” Despite circumstances, he often impressed clinicians.

“The beauty of Laquan as we will see going forward is his legacy should be long and strong, because we should learn so much,” Williams says.

“Not only about how he died … We also need to learn about what happens to a child who’s born in that kind of circumstance, a child who goes through DCFS, a child who’s in foster care, and what is it that our responsibility should really be to ensure he’s safe and well-fed and well-bread and has a true opportunity in life?”

Seven months before his death, McDonald, in juvenile detention, said, “I love my life, even though [it’s] hell.” He admitted to being a “follower for too long” and said he was “maturing” and encouraged by his great-grandmother to “be [his] own man.”

“He saw hope,” Williams says. “He saw how things were just about to get better, and then it turned tragic as it could possibly be.”