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US civil rights activist Malcolm X (1925-1965) speaks during a rally in Washington, circa 1963. Malcolm X was later assassinated. Malcolm Shabazz, his grandson, was killed Thursday, May 9, in Mexico.
Malcolm Shabazz, grandson of the late civil rights activist Malcolm X, was killed Thursday in Mexico in an apparent beating outside a bar.
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 Juan Ruiz, a member of the organization. The leader, Miguel Suarez, had been deported last month to Mexico by U.S. officials.
Suarez told The Associated Press that Shabazz had traveled to Mexico to support him and his movement. He said he was with Shabazz when Shabazz was beaten up at a bar near Plaza Garibaldi, a downtown square that is home to Mexico City's mariachis.
"We were dancing with the girls and drinking," Suarez said. Then the owner of the bar wanted them to pay a $1,200 bar tab for music, drinks and the women's companionship.
Suarez said a man with a gun took him to a separate room and he heard a violent commotion in the hall. He said he escaped and came back minutes later in a cab to look for Shabazz, whom he found on the ground outside the bar.
"He was in shock. His face was messed up," Suarez told the AP, saying he took Shabazz to a hospital but that his friend died hours later of blunt-force injuries.
Mexico's attorney general's office said a murder investigation was under way, Reuters reported. The office said in a statement that Shabazz "exhibited various injuries, apparently from blows," and died in a hospital.
Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid, a leading U.S. 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 its 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.
In a statement, the Shabazz family said: "Although his bright light and boundless potential are gone from this life, we are grateful that he now rests in peace in the arms of his grandparents and the safety of God. We will miss him."
Numerous attempts to reach other 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, at age 18, he landed in prison on a charge of attempted robbery.
Months after his release in 2006, Shabazz was arrested again after punching a hole in the window of a doughnut shop.
Imam Dawud Walid, an acquaintance of Shabazz and executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Michigan, 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."
NBC News' Becky Bratu contributed to this report.
This story was originally published on Fri May 10, 2013 8:18 PM EDT