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Malcolm X widow burned critically in fire; grandson arrested

June 2, 1997

YONKERS, N.Y. (AP) _ Malcolm X’s widow was in extremely critical condition today after being badly burned in a fire allegedly set by her 12-year-old grandson.

``It does not look good for her,″ Detective Sgt. William Rinaldi said.

Police said a boy who was relative of Betty Shabazz was arrested Sunday, hours after the early-morning blaze in her apartment left her with third-degree burns over 80 percent of her body. They said he smelled of gasoline and was ringing doorbells in nearby Mount Veron.

The boy was taken into custody on charges of juvenile delinquency, police Detective Edward Oakley said. Longtime family lawyer Percy Sutton said he was Mrs. Shabazz’s grandson, Malcolm Shabaz.

Sutton said the boy was the son of Mrs. Shabazz’s daughter Quibilah, who has been embroiled in legal troubles and had been living in San Antonio.

``There were problems there with that child. He’s a bright young man, but there were some troubles there,″ Sutton said, adding that he would represent the boy at an arraignment today.

Mrs. Shabazz, 63, a college administrator, was hospitalized in ``extremely critical″ condition, said Dr. Bruce Greenstein of Jacobi Hospital in the Bronx.

The boy doused a hallway of Mrs. Shabazz’s apartment with gasoline and set the fire because he was angry he had to live with his grandmother, The New York Times reported today, quoting unidentified law enforcement sources.

The New York Post reported today the grandson was sent to Mrs. Shabazz’s home three weeks ago because his mother wanted to get him away from a crowd of rough friends.

The Washington Post and the New York Post, quoting family friend Wilbert Tatum, reported today that the fire awoke Mrs. Shabazz, who ran toward her front door to put it out, but the flames caught her nightgown and set her on fire.

Mrs. Shabazz was at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on Feb. 21, 1965, when her husband, who had just returned from a pilgrimage to Mecca and became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was assassinated.

For 30 years, there was a rift between Mrs. Shabazz and current Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, whom Mrs. Shabazz accused of having a role in her husband’s death.

Shortly before Malcolm X died, he had criticized Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad and was labeled a traitor by Farrakhan. Three men with connections to the Nation of Islam later were convicted of the killing.

Farrakhan and Mrs. Shabazz publicly reconciled shortly after Qubilah Shabazz _ who was 4 when she saw her father gunned down _ resolved federal charges she had plotted to kill Farrakhan. The charges were dropped last month.

Coretta Scott King, the widow of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., said in a statement from Atlanta she was devastated by the news.

``Betty Shabazz has been a great friend to me and she is a wonderful, caring, person, who has carried forward her husband’s legacy with dignity and grace,″ she said.

Farrakhan said he was deeply concerned.

``Our community stands ready to lend whatever resources to assist the family in this hour,″ he said Sunday. ``We are all praying for her full and complete recovery.″

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