Police in Irving, Texas, arrested a 14-year-old high school student after school officials assumed a “circuit-stuffed pencil case” he brought to school was a bomb, even after he insisted that the item was a homemade clock, the Dallas Morning News reports.
The incident has sparked a strong reaction online, and many have said the boy, a freshman student council member named Ahmed Mohamed, would not have been arrested if he weren’t Muslim.
“Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb—though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that it’s a clock,” the Morning News reports. “In the meantime, Ahmed’s been suspended, his father is upset and the Council on American-Islamic Relations is once again eyeing claims of Islamophobia in Irving.”
Ahmed, a member of the robotics club in middle school, has a box full of circuit boards at the foot of his bed, the paper reports. A photo circulating on Twitter shows he was wearing a NASA t-shirt at the time of his arrest.
Ahmed’s sister told me to post this. Yes this situation is real for those questioning. pic.twitter.com/Oxd0JxUS6O
-- Prajwol/Ru (@OfficalPrajwol) September 16, 2015
“It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car,” a police spokesman told the Morning News. “The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?”
In a letter to parents, school officials didn’t address the specifics of the incident Wednesday, saying only that police responded to a “suspicious-looking item on campus yesterday.”
Update: Police Say No Charges Will Be Filed
Irving police officials shared this photo of Ahmed’s clock at a press conference Wednesday morning.
-- D Fernandez (@DemondFernandez) September 16, 2015
Texas law says a person is guilty of possessing a “hoax bomb” if they “intended to cause anyone to be alarmed” with a suspicious looking device, police said. Because there is no evidence the student intended to cause alarm, he will not be charged, police said, offering to further explain the situation to the boy’s family.
Irving school officials declined to comment further on the specifics of the case, citing student privacy laws, according to media at the press conference.
Criticism of Student’s Arrest
Criticism of the student’s arrest spread quickly online Tuesday night, even prompting comment from President Barack Obama and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Ahmed himself created an account to thank supporters.
-- Ahmed Mohamed (@IStandWithAhmed) September 16, 2015
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
Assumptions and fear don’t keep us safe--they hold us back. Ahmed, stay curious and keep building. //t.co/ywrlHUw3g1
-- Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 16, 2015
I don’t know how many times we tell son “nice experiment/contraption. don’t take it to school.” this is (sadly) why. @mdawriter
-- Frances Frost (@francesfrost) September 16, 2015
@mdawriter there’s so much hype about STEM &MakerEd yet no talk on making these spaces safe for students of colour.
-- Rusul رسل (@RusulAlrubail) September 16, 2015
Those of us not in Irving, TX, also have to do better for kids like Ahmed. Don’t act like this only happens there. //t.co/EPNwPzycgy
-- Stephanie Bennett (@stephestellar) September 16, 2015
If any of our early geek experiments had gotten the most terrifying response possible from teachers & police, would we have kept doing it?
-- Anil Dash (@anildash) September 16, 2015
An awesome kid makes a clock, shows his teachers, gets arrested. How about we encourage creativity, not fear and racism. #IStandWithAhmed
-- Jaci Burton (@jaciburton) September 16, 2015
I hope this doesn’t ruin your love of science. I hope you grow up & work for NASA or anywhere else, making amazing things #IStandWithAhmed
-- Sparker (@SparkerPants) September 16, 2015
Photo: Irving MacArthur High School student Ahmed Mohamed, 14, poses for a photo at his home in Irving, Texas on Sept. 15. Mohamed was arrested and interrogated by Irving police officers after bringing a homemade clock that authorities said resembled a bomb with him to school --Vernon Bryant/The Dallas Morning News/AP
A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.