Muslim student’s creative clock draws police — and White House invitation

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was detained after police said a suspicious device was found inside his pencil box at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

Video courtesy of USA Today

IRVING, Texas — A Texas high school student at the center of a tech storm after authorities mistook his clock invention for a bomb got a reprieve from the highest level Wednesday (Sept. 16). President Obama invited him to the White House.

“Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House?,” @POTUS tweeted. “We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”

Officials at MacArthur High School in Irving suspended freshman Ahmed Mohamed, 14, and called police Monday after determining that his invention looked like a bomb. Irving police handcuffed, questioned and detained Ahmed, then let him go.

Police Chief Larry Boyd said Wednesday the wires in a briefcase looked suspicious — and that Ahmed was not immediately “forthcoming” other than to say the device was a clock. He said the incident “evolved as it did as a matter of safety and an abundance of caution” and that no charges will be filed.

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was detained after police said a suspicious device was found inside his pencil box at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was detained after police said a suspicious device was found inside his pencil box at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

Ahmed, who has won awards for his inventions, said he created the clock over the weekend and brought it to school to show an engineering teacher. Ahmed’s case created a storm of support on social media, with #IStandWithAhmed trending on Twitter. Hillary Clinton tweeted support, and technology and engineering giants also chimed in.

“Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest,” Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg posted on his Facebook page. “The future belongs to people like Ahmed.

“Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I’d love to meet you. Keep building.”

The Google Science Fair tweeted that it was “saving a seat” for Ahmed at this weekend’s event. NASA geologist Fred Calef tweeted: “Anytime you wanna see Mars rovers Ahmed, let me know. #IStandWithAhmed.”

The travel website said it was offering Ahmed a free flight to visit the “NASA center of his choice.”

The White House invited Ahmed to Astronomy Night at the White House next month, an event that connects students with government scientists and NASA astronauts.

“The fact is that America’s best teachers in our schools, in our best schools at least, nurture the intellectual curiosity of all of our students,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “In this instance, it’s clear that at least some of Ahmed’s teachers failed him.”

According to Irving police, Ahmed’s case contained a digital clock that the student had taken apart and rearranged. Police said the student had the briefcase in his English class, where he plugged it into an electrical outlet and it started to make noise.

Ahmed said his English teacher confiscated his case. A few hours later, the student said the school’s principal and resource officer pulled him out of class. Police confiscated the case along with Ahmed’s tablet computer.

The Dallas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations said Ahmed was targeted because of his religious and racial identity.

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, shows the device that raised suspicions at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

Ahmed Mohamed, 14, shows the device that raised suspicions at MacArthur High School. Photo courtesy of USA Today

“I think this wouldn’t even be a question if his name wasn’t Ahmed Mohamed,” said Alia Salem, executive director of CAIR’s North Texas chapter. “He is an excited kid who is very bright and wants to share it with his teachers.”

Ahmed said the principal suspended him for three days. The school district declined to discuss details of the case, citing student privacy. But it defended the teacher who voiced concern.

“We always ask our students and staff to immediately report if they observe any suspicious items and/or suspicious behavior,” the district said in a statement, adding: “We will always take necessary precautions to protect our students and keep our school community as safe as possible.”

Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne expressed support for the school and police.

“Hopefully, we can all learn from this week’s events and the student, who has obvious gifts, will not feel at all discouraged from pursuing his talent in electronics and engineering,” Van Duyne said.

 (John Bacon writes for USA Today; Jason Whitely works for WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth.)

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  • I am an atheist and also a believer in strict, enforced safety rules and regulations. This teenager violated these regulations. The school responded as they should in this age of school shootings, bombing and bomb threats. One assumes the authorities would have responded in the same way no matter what religion or no religion the kid was.

  • Possession of Prohibited Items (from the school’s Code of Conduct)
    Students shall not possess or use:
     Fireworks of any kind, smoke or stink bombs, or any other pyrotechnic device;
     A razor, box cutter, chain, or any other object used in a way that threatens or inflicts bodily injury to another person;
     A ―look-alike‖ weapon;
     An air gun or BB gun;
     Ammunition;
     A stun gun;
     A pocketknife or any other small knife, or any knife not defined as an illegal weapon;
     Mace or pepper spray;
     Pornographic material;
     Tobacco products; cigarettes; e-cigarettes; and any component, part, or accessory for an e-cigarette device;
     Mechanical, electronic or imitation devices designed to simulate cigarettes regardless of substance content;

     A laser pointer for other than an approved use; or
     Any articles not generally considered to be weapons, including school supplies, when the principal or designee determines that a danger exists. (For weapons and firearms see DAEP…

  • The teacher thought it was a bomb, so she confiscated it and went back to teaching. He was pulled out of class and interrogated by police HOURS later while a “possible bomb” was ticking away in a classroom. No evacuation. No bomb squad.

    This isn’t how anybody handles a possible bomb. They knew it wasn’t a bomb.

  • Oh, and by the way, “racial identity?” Ahmed is a member of one race: THE HUMAN RACE with darker skin FROM THE ENVIRONMENT.
    One would think this isn’t the 21st century!

  • My parents misguidedly joined a Florida based missionary organisation in the 70s. When they arrived in the third world they found that they were there to work in the jobs that Americans refused to do. They were stripped of their assets and when they complained they were ejected and their house confiscated. We were beaten, abuse, stolen from and denied basic supplies.

    All because we were not American citizens but from Australasia. Similar happened to other non Americans, including Canadians.

    I’ve come to realise that the average American would not want any part of this appalling behaviour, but unfortunately the Average American was misrepresented by religious fanatics who were racial bigots.

    It is time to stop this nonsense and not discriminate on the basis of colour, origin or creed.

  • Muslims should expect this type of treatment in these times. They have brought it on themselves. No sympathy here.

  • So, when so called Christians are called out Becuase of their abominable treatment of people who are not super conservative, we can just say that Kim Davis and her ilk brought it all down on you, and you shouldn’t complain?

    Oh, no! That wouldn’t be fair.

  • I don’t have the same issues that you and Dominic have with Islam, my complaint is about people ho refuse to live in peace with their neighbors due to someone’s religious beliefs. That includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and atheists.

    You should be careful of the company you are willing to keep.

  • Ben, the reality of these times causes little errors to happen. Wires in a briefcase that’s ticking, in a school, owned by a Muslim student who is ” cagey” about what it is ? It’s better to err on the side of caution than to have another mass murder. And this fear has been brought on by the Muslim community. What if the teacher was politically correct and half the school blew up? Why have signs of danger to look for if no one takes them seriously?

  • Oh, I don’t know, Dom.

    The teacher could have LOOKED at the clock. But hey, why be rational when you can fear monger at the expense of innocent others?

    Witches, Jews, black people, gay people, and now Muslims are in he sights of conservative religionists as the latest enemy that needs to be watched, perhaps even eradicated.

    because ya never know, ya know?

  • You’re right, Dom. No one said that this was A Christian bashing a Muslim. I certainly didn’t.

    So why bring it up?

    Oh, yes! projection! Your exact message was, “You never know about those Muslims.” You also never know about those white people, like Timothy McVeigh, do you. Yet nobody calls the police with a bomb report on white kids, do they, unless they actually determine that the white kid has a bomb. She didn’t start “protecting her kids” until frankly it was too late to do so. And she certainly wasn’t interested in protecting one particular kid.

    You are claiming she was being, she was trying her hardest to be blameless,not responsible. At all. A responsible person would have LOOKED at the clock before filing a bomb report. Hell, a responsible person would have at least one spy movie, and known that an obvious clock simply isn’t necessary for a bomb.

    An apparent box of cookies will do.

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