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#IStandWithAhmed: Support grows for teen arrested for clock that 'looked like bomb'

Technically Incorrect: Even President Obama tweets support for the young science enthusiast, inviting him to bring his clock to the White House.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


Ahmed Mohamed, maker of the allegedly bomb-like clock.
Ahmed Mohamed, maker of the allegedly bomb-like clock. Vernon Bryant/Dallas Morning News/Corbis

He was wearing a NASA T-shirt. And handcuffs.

Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed went to MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, on Monday, believing it was just another day. It didn't quite turn out that way.

Mohamed brought a clock he made to school. He wanted to show it off to teachers. As the Dallas Morning News reports, Ahmed is one of those teens who likes to tinker and make things. He's made his own radios, even his own go-kart.

However, when he showed the homemade clock to his engineering teacher, Ahmed says he was told: "That's really nice. I would advise you not to show it to any other teachers."

The clock was simply a digital display wired up to a circuit board and power supply inside a pencil case with a tiger on the front. He told the Morning News it took him 20 minutes to put together.

"My hobby is to invent stuff," he said.

However, this invention had an alarm that went off in English class. The teacher asked him to show her what had made the noise. "She was like, 'it looks like a bomb,'" Ahmed said.

After so many recent shooting incidents at schools, perhaps some teachers and administrators are overly, even if on occasion understandably, paranoid about anything that might be dangerous. But then there's Mohamed's name. In certain sections of America there's a belief that a such a name and the Muslim religion automatically represent a threat.

And so it was that Ahmed Mohamed, age 14, was arrested.

Five police officers were present as he was pulled out of class.

He claims one of the police officers said: "Yup, that's who I thought it was." He believes this a reference to his name, skin color and religion. He is of Sudanese origin and is a Muslim. His father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, is politically active and has tried to run for president in his home country.

The arrest cannot have been easy to bear. "They took my tablet and my invention," Ahmed said.

He added: "Later that day I was taken to a juvenile detention center, where they searched me, they took a fingerprint and mugshots of me."

He said they made him feel like a criminal. The Irving Police Department offered me a statement that read, in part: "The student only would say it was a clock and was not forthcoming at that time about any other details."

What other details might the police have expected?

The police insist that the device did look suspicious (an image is below). They added: "Under Texas law, a person is guilty of possessing a hoax bomb if he possesses a device that is intended to cause anyone to be alarmed or a reaction of any type by law enforcement officers."

Did the police have any evidence that Ahmed intended someone to be alarmed? It seems not.

However the Irving PD say that this 14-year-old was "handcuffed for his safety and for the safety of the officers." That statement might cause one or two people to pause and consider the concept of safety.

"The Irving Police Department has always experienced an outstanding relationship with the Muslim community," the statement said.

What broader explanation might have been expected? He's a nerdy teen and that's what nerdy teens do? The police insisted that if Ahmed had left the clock unattended, it could have been mistaken for a bomb. There's no evidence that he did leave it unattended.

As for the school, MacArthur High says it doesn't comment on parent/student matters. However, it did send a letter to parents (full text below), which read in part that Ahmed's device "did not pose a threat to your child's safety."

An investigation is continuing, the school said. Ahmed has been suspended and could still be charged with "making a hoax bomb."

This case does incite a small echo of an incident in Florida two years ago when a student experimented with exploding a toilet cleaner and foil inside a water bottle. She was arrested for felony possession and discharge of a dangerous weapon. The charges were later dropped.

In Ahmed's case, blogger Anil Dash posted a picture, sent by the boy's family, of the arrest. He looks confused.

On Twitter, former MythBusters co-host Grant Imahara came out in Ahmed's support, saying he too used to tinker as a teen. Moreover, the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed is enjoying considerable activity, adorned with images of people posing with clocks, sometimes very large ones.

Even President Obama offered his tweeted observations: "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."

The incident even appears to be mobilizing some of those in the maker movement. On Wednesday morning, for example, Make magazine posted a story titled Stand With Ahmed: 5 Clocks You Can Make that links to tutorials for DIY clocks. "Here are some clock projects you can build to help show Ahmed, the Irving School District, and the world as a whole, that being creative and curious is not a crime," the story reads.

For his part, Ahmed and his family weren't immediately available for comment. However, they now have their own Twitter account. On Wednesday morning, they tweeted: "About to meet attorney."

Coincidentally, on Wednesday morning NBC5's Ken Kalthoff reported: "@IrvingPD says there is no evidence of intent to create harm. Case dropped and closed."

Indeed, in a press conference Wednesday, Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd confirmed that the case is closed and called the incident "a naive accident." He added that his officers' "reaction would have been the same regardless" of the skin color of the student.

In 2013, MacArthur High School was voted one of the best high schools in America by US News and World Report.

ahmedcase.jpg
The police photo of Ahmed's clock. Irving Police Department

MacArthur Principal Letter to Parents

Update, 12:20 p.m. PT: Police statement added.