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Widow of Malcolm X clings to life

June 2, 1997
Web posted at: 7:42 p.m. EDT (2342 GMT)

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Betty Shabazz, widow of slain civil rights leader Malcolm X, clung to life on Monday with burns over 80 percent of her body. Authorities said her troubled 12-year-old grandson will be charged in connection with the fire that burned her.

"She is still extremely critical. We're just happy she made it through the night," Nina Johnson, a spokeswoman at the Jacobi Hospital Burn Unit where Shabazz, 63, was being treated for third-degree burns, said.

At the request of the family, the hospital would not provide any other details about her condition.

The arraignment of her grandson has been postponed until Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. (EST), after a request by his acting attorney Percy Sutton.

During a brief court appearance, the youth spoke only once, when the judge asked his name. He was wearing a dark blue oversized sweat shirt, blue jeans, white socks, and sandals.

He came into the Bronx family court handcuffed. Sutton asked that the handcuffs be removed and they were, but he was hand-cuffed again when he left the courtroom. The boy faces juvenile delinquency charges. Because of his age, Tuesday's hearing will be closed to the public.

"The boy is a child of trauma. He is a disturbed child. In his life there has been nothing but tragedy. He has spent time in youth houses," Bill Tatum, publisher of the Amsterdam News and a close friend of Shabazz, told Reuters.

The child's mother is Qubilah Bahiyah Shabazz, who was indicted in January 1995 on charges that she plotted to kill Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Betty Shabazz had accused Farrakhan of playing a role in Malcolm X's 1965 assassination.

The indictment was dropped last month after Qubilah Shabazz completed two years of counseling.

Tatum told Reuters the boy was brought to New York three weeks ago to spend time with his grandmother after his mother learned he was hanging out "with a rough bunch of kids" at Qubilah's San Antonio, Texas, home.

"Qubilah thought the circumstances and environment would be better for him in New York," Tatum added. But the boy rebelled and was soon hanging out "with an undesirable element in Yonkers. He kept arguing with his grandmother that he wanted to return to Texas," he said.

Shabazz was found at 1:40 a.m. EDT (0540 GMT) on Sunday in her luxury Yonkers, New York, three-bedroom co-op apartment. Tatum said allegations are that the boy used an accelerant to start the fire by the front door of the sixth-floor apartment.

"Somehow Betty was awakened and came to the door in her night clothes and tried to put the fire out," he said. "But her clothes ignited and she went up in flames herself."

Shabazz managed to get her clothes off and went to neighbors for help. "One neighbor put a sheet around her while another called police and fire departments."

Betty Shabazz heads the Office of Institutional Advancement at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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