A precocious Grade 9 student who built a clock and took it to his Texas school to show his teachers and classmates learned the hard way that others might see his handiwork quite differently – as a possible explosive device.
The misunderstanding resulted in Ahmed Mohamed, 14, becoming the focus of a police investigation in to a hoax bomb and a deluge of public support in the span of 48 hours. By Wednesday, U.S. President Barack Obama had weighed in and Canada’s most famous astronaut was offering to fly Ahmed to Toronto.
It all started last Sunday night. Ahmed, the son of Sudanese immigrants, spent the evening putting together the clock – a circuit board connected to a digital display and fitting inside a pencil case – and took it to school the next morning.
The teenager had just started high school at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, and was looking to showcase his electronics and engineering talent to his new teachers, according to the Dallas Morning News.
A chain of events followed that ultimately brought local police to the school, and saw the Muslim teenager taken to juvenile detention to be fingerprinted — which prompted allegations of racial profiling.
“It made me feel like I wasn’t human, it made me feel like a criminal,” Ahmed said in a video on the newspaper’s website.
The case sparked a barrage of tweets and its own trending hashtag #IStandWithAhmed – with messages of support from celebrities and politicians, and invitations from the White House and Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.— President Obama (@POTUS) September 16, 2015
Ahmed’s day at school started with him showing his invention to his engineering teacher, who advised him not to show it to other staff. But the clock started beeping during another class, leading to an exchange with his English teacher, who wondered whether it was a bomb.
Concern escalated and by day’s end, the teen was pulled out of class and questioned by police – and eventually suspended for three days, his family said. A photo of the teen on social media shows him in handcuffs.
“They thought, ‘How could someone like this build something like this unless it’s a threat?’ ” the teen told the Dallas Morning News.
Ahmed’s father thinks his son was mistreated by school and police officials because of his Muslim name and the post 9-11 climate in the U.S.
“He just wants to invent good things for mankind,” said Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed.
Late Wednesday morning, Irving police chief Larry Boyd said there was no evidence that the “homemade experiment” was intended to create alarm and no charges will be filed against Ahmed following the “naive accident,” according to Dallas Morning News and KERA News reports.
The police chief also said the police response would have been the same regardless of race.
“The Irving police department has always experienced an outstanding relationship with our Muslim community,” Mr. Boyd said. “We recognize that situations like this present challenges but we’re committed to continuing to build that positive relationship,” he added.
The Irving Independent School District sent a letter to parents on Tuesday. Without naming Ahmed or the specific incident, it stated, “While we do not have any threats to our school community, we want you to be aware that the Irving Police Department responded to a suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday. We are pleased to report that after the police department’s assessment, the item discovered at school did not pose a threat to your child’s safety.”
The letter also outlined the importance of reporting to school staff any suspicious behaviour or items.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations said it was alarmed by the treatment of the teen.
“I think this wouldn’t even be a question if his name wasn’t Ahmed Mohamed,” executive director Alia Salem said in an interview with KVUE television channel. “He is an excited kid who’s very bright, likes to invent things, wants to share it with his teachers.”
With a report from Kathleen Jolly