By John Newland, Staff Writer, NBC News
Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of the late civil rights activist Malcolm X, was killed in Mexico on Thursday during an apparent robbery, his family’s spiritual adviser, friends and Islamic associations said.
Shabazz, 28, had traveled to Mexico to meet with a leader of a California activist and rights group known as Rumec, according to a report in Talking Points Memo, which quoted the organization’s Juan Ruiz. The leader, Miguel Suarez, had been deported last month to Mexico by U.S. officials.
“I do know that Malcolm was involved in human rights and that he had a relationship with a gentleman named Suarez in Mexico,” said Imam Dawud Walid, an acquaintance of Shabazz and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan.
Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, a leading American figure in Islam and the imam of the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, N.Y., said the Shabazz family was “still trying to find out exactly what happened” and trying to cope with the loss.
He described the Shabazz family as “very private” and said he was respecting their request to be discreet about the death.
“I am a spiritual adviser to the family itself,” he said. “They’re like any family would be under the circumstances. They’re in shock. They’re grieving.”
He added that details surrounding Malcom Shabazz’s death remained sketchy on Friday.
Numerous attempts to reach Mexican officials were unsuccessful. Friday was Mother’s Day in the country and most official offices were closed, including U.S. consular bureaus and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. The State Department would say only that a U.S. citizen had been killed in Mexico City and that it was withholding further comment at the family’s request.
Shabazz had a turbulent childhood and adolescence. His mother, Qubilah Shabazz, was indicted on charges of plotting to kill the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who some suspected was involved in Malcolm X’s assassination. Qubilah Shabazz was Malcolm X’s second daughter.
In light of his mother’s legal and personal troubles, Shabazz was placed at a young age in the custody of Betty Shabazz, his grandmother and Malcolm X’s widow. On June 1, 1997, Shabazz, then 12, set a fire in his grandmother’s Yonkers, N.Y., apartment that left the woman critically injured. She died later that month from those injuries.
Shabazz pleaded guilty to setting the blaze and was sentenced to 18 months in juvenile detention for manslaughter and arson. That sentence could be re-evaluated every year until he turned 18.
He got out after four years, but two years later, aged 18, he landed in prison on a charge of attempted robbery.
”According to the records, I’m diagnosed with so many things,” Shabazz told The New York Times in an interview at the time. ”I hear voices, I hear things, I’m schizophrenic, I’m manic-depressive. I wouldn’t be sitting here this calm if those things were true.”
He added: ”I have goals. I have plans. I want people to know what’s going on with me.”
Months after his release in 2006, Shabazz was arrested again after punching a hole in the window of a doughnut shop.
Walid said the Malcolm Shabazz he knew was a young man struggling with the pressure of being the grandson of a famous civil rights warrior.
“I had spoken with him in the past pertaining to the struggles that he had and some of the mistakes that he made in the past as a youth,” Walid said. “He spoke of the pressure and the scrutiny that he was under coming from being part of the Shabazz family. It’s a lot for a young man to handle — also, a lot to live up to. There are a lot of people who expected him to be the reflection of his grandfather, and that’s a heavy burden to bear.”
He also said that even though he knew of Shabazz’s past criminal troubles, he did not see a dark side in the man.
“He had a very mild disposition and was a person who smiled constantly,” Walid said. “That’s my interactions with him.”
Abdur-Rashid said Shabazz was “a good young man, 28, still trying to figure out a lot of things.”
“He was definitely a leader,” Abdur-Rashid added. “I think his struggle was how to find a way out of his past. … Other young people responded to his natural leadership. But that’s what he had been doing over the past couple of years. He made pilgrimage, he was reading, he was writing, he was talking to groups of young people. He was really right at the beginning I think of forging a very positive path of his own.”
NBC News’ Becky Bratu contributed to this report.