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9th-Grader May Face Charges After Homemade Clock Mistaken For Bomb 956

New submitter bengoerz writes: 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was led away from MacArthur High School in handcuffs and faces possible charges after teachers, school administrators, and police in Irving, Texas mistook his homemade clock for a bomb. The device — a circuit board, power supply, and digital display wired together inside a pencil box — was confiscated by a teacher after the alarm sounded in class. Despite telling everyone who would listen that his device was just a clock, Ahmed was confronted by four police officers, suspended for three days, and threatened with expulsion unless he made a written statement, before eventually being transported to a juvenile detention center to meet his parents.
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9th-Grader May Face Charges After Homemade Clock Mistaken For Bomb

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  • by BubbaDave ( 1352535 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:27AM (#50530845)

    Unfortunately, a lot of the stupid seem to have involved themselves in education.

    • by Dunbal ( 464142 ) * on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:35AM (#50531481)

      ZERO TOLERANCE!!!!!!!!!

      Perhaps teachers need to sit down and realize that "zero tolerance" really means "intolerance" but it seems that what they are really aiming for is "irrational". Kids arrested for drawing on desks, drawing pictures of guns, shaping their fingers like a gun...etc. Sheesh my generation would not have made it two weeks into school without being locked in maximum security prisons.

      Well congratulations. If this technical minded little boy ends up being processed as a "potential terrorist" you can bet your ass he WILL end up disliking the government that did this to him. Thus America creates another terrorist. Maybe that's the whole idea, I don't know anymore.

    • by mtrachtenberg ( 67780 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @09:22AM (#50532057) Homepage

      Thanks to the US education establishment, there's a millionaire made every day... usually via lawsuits. I'd say this young man won't need to worry about college debt.

  • Unavoidable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by qbast ( 1265706 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:28AM (#50530853)
    Brown skin, name like 'Ahmed Mohamed' and home made electronic clock. He is lucky to be alive actually.
    • Re:Unavoidable (Score:5, Interesting)

      by TheReaperD ( 937405 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:33AM (#50530891)

      On one hand I wanted to commend you on your sarcasm but, I'm afraid you may be both dead serious and right. There's a lot of islamophobic stupidity in this country at the moment and it runs deep in all government institutions especially involving police or defense.

  • That'll learn 'im (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:29AM (#50530863)

    He made the mistake of thinking that school was a place for learning and exploration. It is not.

    He also made the mistake of not having white skin and having a Muslim-sounding name.

  • Gee-zus (Score:5, Informative)

    by rmdingler ( 1955220 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:30AM (#50530871) Journal
    I started reading....

    Please don't be a Arab-sounding name. Shit!

    Please don't be in Texas. Fock!

    Sigh... well played, stereotype, well played.

    • Re:Gee-zus (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:47AM (#50530989)

      Macarthur High School, Irving, TX reviews [greatschools.org]. Sounds like a terrible place to try to learn.

      "At least half of the teachers should not be teaching kids EVER."

      "Only by threatening to have them arrested. Kids are afraid to take AP classes because they aren't learning anything. They are only reading and taking notes. No instruction at all."

      "My kids hate this school now and would much rather move if we were able."

      "No it's a breeding ground for bullying, fighting and rudeness. The teachers stoop to a child's level to treat them with absolute disrespect."

      "This school has gone from a 10 to a 1 in a matter of 9 months. I blame this 100% on the new Principal. This school is run like a military camp, with horrible food, unrealistic rules, and all 'fun' activities taken away. They are threatened with court and jail if they are tardy. Theft is so rampant at this school that it is unbelievable. AP History teachers give several hours of notes each night, instead of actually TEACHING while they are in class, which means no time for their core class homework or sports. They refuse, and I mean refuse to let your child out of AP, even when you have signed several slips for this to happen. Teachers obviously set you up to fail. They just don't care. This is true for 50% of the teachers at this school. And don't report bullying. Your child will be blamed instead of the child who is actually doing the bullying. And the parent is put down as well. We just don't report theft or bullying anymore. Not worth the humiliation and disrespect that the 'fine' staff at Mac makes sure you endure."

      • by Gramie2 ( 411713 )

        And yet those terrible reviews are intermingled with glowing 5-star ones. There are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth.

        (Although people should definitely be fired -- or charged themselves -- for what they have done to young Ahmed.)

        • Re:Gee-zus (Score:4, Informative)

          by nedlohs ( 1335013 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:49AM (#50531699)

          They are not "intermingled". The quoted reviews were all on one day in May 2015. The glowing 5-star reviews are from 2013 and earlier.

          Now that could mean the "This school has done from a 10 to 1 in a matter of 9 months" comment is correct. Or maybe someone got pissed off and wrote a bunch of negative reviews all at once. I'd put my money on the second, though this news article is some evidence for the former I guess.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:30AM (#50530879)

    That used to mean something in this country. Now the "terrorists" are out to get us from every corner. Benjamin Franklin's quote about safety and liberty applies more and more every day. If it was a Caucasian kid named Billy Martin, would this even be "news"?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:32AM (#50530885)

    I cannot believe the stupidity of the teachers. They should be suspended.
    The school should pay damages to cover emotional distress and follow up therapy for the kid.

    Well done...

  • Who to contact... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:34AM (#50530899)

    Here's how to reach out to the Irving ISD superintendent to let him know what you think:

    Jose Parra
    Superintendent of Schools
    972-600-5001
    jparra@irvingisd.net

  • by StatureOfLiberty ( 1333335 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:36AM (#50530919)
    This would have been me in 1976. Obviously, it wasn't quite that easy to make a clock back then. But, I was building things all of the time. The knowledge I gained has served me well my entire life. This is the kind of thing we should be encouraging. Tinkerers have helped to make this country what it is. To profile a kid like this into the criminal category is just beyond sad. I hope it doesn't discourage him from exploring his interests down the road. He needs to find a local Maker group. The school and police need to get a clue.
  • WTF? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:37AM (#50530925) Homepage

    His clock now sits in an evidence room. Police say they may yet charge him with making a hoax bomb â" though they acknowledge he told everyone who would listen that itâ(TM)s a clock.

    So, he might be charged ... for not making a bomb ... and for telling everybody it's not a bomb?

    What the actual fuck? He didn't create a bomb, he didn't create a hoax bomb. Morons incorrectly concluded he made a bomb, he told them repeatedly it wasn't a bomb, but these morons now wish to charge him for the non-making of a non-bomb in a non-hoaxing kind of way?

    These police are fucking morons, who if left in public could be accidentally confused with competent law enforcement officers. They should be charged with creating a hoax police department.

    Apparently being a nerdy brown kid is now illegal in America. If this was a white Christian kid, he'd be a national fucking hero.

    • Apparently being a nerdy brown kid is now illegal in America. If this was a white Christian kid, he'd be a national fucking hero.

      White kids've gotten nailed for this kind of thing in the past. The issue is he did something that confused the adults in power, who panicked in the name of "responsibility." Learning while brown/Muslim sure didn't help though.

      Maybe there should be a legal defense org for kids like this along the lines of EFF, but for the makers and tinkerers out there...
    • "He said it wasn't a bomb, which of course is exactly what he would say if it was a bomb! So it's his fault we thought it was a bomb!"

      Some people have a very distant relationship with logic.

    • Re:WTF? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:54AM (#50531745) Journal

      They should be charged with creating a hoax police department.

      Impersonating a police officer is probably the crime that you're thinking of, though Deprivation of rights under color of law [cornell.edu] is a more interesting one that should be more widely applied.

    • He wasn't just any "nerdy brown kid". His father is fairly well known [abigmessage.com] as a spokesman trying to calm anti-islam rhetoric. Of course that shouldn't make the kid any more of a suspect, the teachers and police clearly over reacted because they knew the family. But again, he wasn't just some random kid.
  • by KenDiPietro ( 1294220 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:37AM (#50530929)
    We didn't used to be a bunch of sniveling cowards! There was a time when we used to exude bravery and instead of pissing our pants at the possibility of a problem we shrugged them off and dealt with them as necessary. And now look at us. Some kid brings a science project to school and we have jackasses wondering if he did this to create a stink. Maybe the kid just wanted to experiment with electronics - like a lot of us did when we were kids. Oh right, no one here on SlashDot ever did that. Christ!
    • by Somebody Is Using My ( 985418 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:09AM (#50531187) Homepage

      It isn't fear of terrorism that causes this sort of reaction. At least, not directly. I don't think the police or teachers were necessarily worrying themselves that they might get blown up. Rather, it was a fear that - if the clock was a bomb used in a terror attack - THEY WOULD GET BLAMED for not doing something about it earlier. It's the same reason our politicians are so willing to pass the most obscenely unjust laws to chase down criminals: the penalty for not passing the law is disproportionately greater than passing it. If even one crime could have been prevented by the non-existent law (or had the clock been a bomb), far more blame is assigned to the people-of-authority who MIGHT have done something about the crime than to the actual criminal performing the act itself. It's no wonder people over-react in these situations. They aren't worried about being attacked by terrorists; they are worried about being attacked by us.

  • by WalrusSlayer ( 883300 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:38AM (#50530931)

    http://www.makershed.com/products/defusable-alarm-clock-kit

    I have that kit waiting patiently in a drawer for my 12y/o to get the initiative to build it. They even have some cool ideas on wrapping dowels and routing the "defuse" wires through them to make it look like dynamite sticks. Clearly I would tell him never to bring that to school. But now, I'd have to worry about some friend coming over, seeing it and telling his parents. One can only imagine a similarly damaging misunderstanding taking place.

    Seems we have already lost the war...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:38AM (#50530939)

    Why punish this kid? He did nothing wrong. Punish the hysterical school officials who lack the sense to tell a clock from a bomb for wasting police time.

    • by Kohath ( 38547 )

      Government officials never get punished for this sort of thing. Authority is self-justifying.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:40AM (#50530945)

    Recipients: dacummings@irvingisd.net, othomas@irvingisd.net, mespino@irvingisd.net, sheller@irvingisd.net, awong@irvingisd.net, psmith@irvingisd.net
    (from http://www.irvingisd.net/domain/2031 )

    Email message:

    To whom it concerns,

    I had to read this article about a boy who tinkers with electronics as a hobby:
    http://www.dallasnews.com/news/community-news/northwest-dallas-county/headlines/20150915-irving-9th-grader-arrested-after-taking-homemade-clock-to-school-so-you-tried-to-make-a-bomb.ece

    I hope it is not standard practice of the school to traumatize kids the way this has been dealt with. Kids who take up interests in sciences should be supported. Not jailed.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:42AM (#50530955)

    Remember the 2007 Boston 'bomb'? The LED light sign advertising Aqua Teen Hunger Force?
    When they realized they were just signs, and the police chief and mayor had been idiots, they switched the claim to "intent to plant a hoax device to cause panic", so the panic they were spreading by claiming it was a bomb, they then twisted that to pretend that panic came from the people placing the LED signs.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2007_Boston_bomb_scare

    They dig a hole for themselves, and they dig it deeper and deeper until they come across as unfit to run a city or school.

    Here, you see the same thing:

    "Ahmed never claimed his device was anything but a clock, said police spokesman James McLellan. And police have no reason to think it was dangerous. But officers still didn’t believe Ahmed was giving them the whole story."

    “We have no information that he claimed it was a bomb,” McLellan said. “He kept maintaining it was a clock, but there was no broader explanation.”
    "Asked what broader explanation the boy could have given, the spokesman explained:"
    “It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car. The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?”

    ******
    They know its not a bomb, so they go for the "might be mistaken for a bomb if placed under a car" angle. Some fictional extra bit, that might turn a non-bomb into something that might be mistaken for a bomb by someone as idiot as themselves.

    I'm better they watch Fox News.

  • by Murdoch5 ( 1563847 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @07:53AM (#50531041)
    The only reason everyone thought it was a bomb first was because of his name. It's sad in 2015 we still can't be adult and mature.
  • by Aaron B Lingwood ( 1288412 ) <aaron@lingwood.gmail@com> on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:05AM (#50531161)

    Salem Witch Trials, Mass Murder of Scientists, Islamophobia, 2007 Boston Bomb Scare, and now this.

    The teacher confiscated the "bomb" which sat in their drawer until the end of class when it was taken to administration. If the teacher truly believed that the device could have even remotely been a bomb, they would not have touched it, would have evacuated the school, and would have called bomb squad. The teacher, the administration, and the police are complicit in perpetuating a fraud - a fraud against a child.

    Even in the case that the clock resembled a "movie bomb" or was purposely contracted to do so, the child did nothing wrong as long as he didn't hint at it being a bomb or use it to threaten anyone. There are plenty of clocks on the market that resemble a bomb. Yes, it may have been a lark. Yes, it may have been a protest to create awareness. No, it wasn't malicious. No, it wasn't threatening. And no, it obviously wasn't convincing.

    I seriously hope that he follows in his father's footsteps and keeps challenging the status quo.

    • That's a really interesting point, it makes me wonder what else there is to the story. Journalists generally do such a crappy job in their rush to get it on the web, it could take months and dozens of articles to actually piece the story together.
    • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:50AM (#50531713) Journal

      Standard government procedure for dealing with potential explosives.

      All those >3oz bottles of liquid which can be used to take down a modern airliner that get confiscated at the TSA go into a regular trash can which is directly adjacent to the screeners and lines of hundreds of people waiting to be screened. Not into a bomb-proof container. Not taken to a remote location. Not handled with any kind of care or security.

      Stupid is as stupid does.

    • by l0n3s0m3phr34k ( 2613107 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @10:13AM (#50532591)
      That's because she, the teacher, probably knows exactly who the kid was, his dad, etc. He's been in the news there plenty. So she didn't want to make a carnival like that right then, I'll bet she knew it was fake. When the principal saw who did this, of course he's going to call the police since the entire town is freaked out from their mayor fighting with mosques over Sharia law courts. I'm betting the police decided to "show this kid what's real" "movie bomb? you want to be in a movie? You ever see Pulp Fiction, you punk?" attitude at him. It's law enforcement MO to "scare everyone straight" and use intimidation on everyone they set their sites on. Many law enforcement officers already think their on the "front lines" against terrorists, rioters, targeted killings, and are turning more and more to a "shoot first" policy, don't bother asking questions. All threats must be eliminated, trust no one that doesn't look like you.
  • by Drethon ( 1445051 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:10AM (#50531203)
    If I could tell Ahmed anything it would be keep inventing, outside of school. Apparently school is not the place for learning or inventing and is actively hostile to this. If you keep learning outside of school, you will become successful while the school, and those who don't learn for themselves, will keep falling behind.
  • 'Merica (Score:5, Funny)

    by p0p0 ( 1841106 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:18AM (#50531295)
    Land of the free? Nope.
    Home of the brave? Haha nope.
  • Wow. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jdharm ( 1667825 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:31AM (#50531435)
    "He’s vowed never to take an invention to school again."

    Reading that article gave me a sick feeling in my stomach. It sounded like they were describing a grisly murder when they were detailing the exact manner in which a school's ignorance and racism crushed the spirit and enthusiasm of a smart and motivated kid. Then I read that last line. That might be one of the most profoundly sad things I've ever read.
  • Irving, Texas (Score:4, Informative)

    by PopeRatzo ( 965947 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:38AM (#50531543) Journal

    What do you expect? It was Texas, and they weren't sure what a clock could be used for.

    Let me introduce to you to the principal of the school:

    ‘It looks like a movie bomb to me.’

    Now let me introduce you to the mayor of Irving, Texas:

    ...this summer when Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne became a national celebrity in anti-Islamic circles, fueling rumors in speeches that the religious minority was plotting to usurp American laws.

    Finally, let's let Irving, Texas Police Office James McLellan speak for himself:

    “It could reasonably be mistaken as a device if left in a bathroom or under a car,” McLellan said. “The concern was, what was this thing built for? Do we take him into custody?”

    Get that? It's a clock and Officer McLellan wasn't sure "what was this thing built for"? So they took him into custody.

    They suspended the kid for three days.

    Jesus wept. Texas is a shithole.

  • by Rogue974 ( 657982 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:41AM (#50531577)

    I will tell you want he should do next!

    1) Make a list of exactly what it takes to make a clock like this
    2) Talk to his friends, who talk to their friends, etc. and spread the list
    3) Have as many of the high school students show up at a location on a Saturday and all build clocks
    4) Have all of these students show up at school on Monday with their clocks
    5) Have all the kids en-mass show their teachers the clocks they made right as school is starting. Make sure they all know, it is a clock.
    6) Wait for the administration and police to react.

    Problem solved. they can't suspend that many kids at once. The Police can't handle that many kids at once. If they don't respond the exact same way as they did to the first clock, then the lawsuits will fly! They can't respond to that many clocks being brought to school in the same manner so the police and school then have to say, yeah, it isn't that big a deal or they have to let their true crazy shine!

    I think you maybe even get as many of the parents as you can to show up at school drop off with clocks as well!

  • by jddj ( 1085169 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @08:56AM (#50531781) Journal

    Noted on Twitter last night that many people have found inexpensive electronic clock kits [amazon.com], and are sending them to Irving High to help the teachers learn about what clocks are, that they're not terribly threatening, and to help their kids learn to build them.

    That address is:

    Irving High School
    900 N O Connor Rd
    Irving, TX 75061

  • by Pascoea ( 968200 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @09:16AM (#50531995)

    Where the hell is the picture of the "bomb clock"? I see a picture of the kid next to circuit board. If that is the "bomb clock" then a lot of adults need to get slapped upside the head.

    The point being, what he is sitting next to could not conceivably be considered a bomb by anybody with a brain between their ears. Now, if the "clock" was a display protruding from a small box, where you can't see what is going on inside the box (as the story implies), then maybe (just maybe) there was a tiny shred of justification for their actions. However, maybe a more appropriate response (assuming the thing actually resembled a bomb) would have been to say "hey son, could you please show me what's inside the box?" If you were TRULY worried about it being a bomb, maybe evacuating the school and calling in the bomb squad would have been appropriate. I would expect any of those responses by the teachers if the kid was white, black, brown, purple, or green. But no, these backwards mother fuckers see a brown kid with a "muslim sounding" name and all hell breaks loose.

    If the second teacher TRULY thought this was a bomb, why the fuck would you put it in your desk and leave it there for hours? They need to be fired, immediately, for failing to act responsibly in a "dangerous" situation. If the police were TRULY worried that this device was a bomb they all need to be fired, immediately, for failing to properly handle a suspected explosive device.

    Oh, reading the story again, nobody ever thought it was ACTUALLY a bomb, they just thought it kinda looked like one. First teacher probably should be talked to, if he thought the device could be perceived as a threat (saying "you probably shouldn't show that to any one else") he should have confiscated it on the spot. Second teacher acted appropriately. Knew it wasn't actually a bomb, just thought it looked like one, so she confiscated it and reported it to the principle. I would expect the same thing to happen to someone that brought in something that could be perceived as a bomb, gun, knife, whatever. Principal? Yeah, he needs to be fired. Threatening to expel a student for not providing a written statement? Yeah, not cool. Intimidating a 14 year old by forcing a written statement without a parent present? I'd be pissed if they did that to my kids. The police involved, definitely reprimanded. Interrogating a minor without a parent present, big no-no. Arresting him without charging him with a crime? Also a no-no.

  • by QuasiEvil ( 74356 ) on Wednesday September 16, 2015 @09:35AM (#50532209)

    I've actually been thinking about this quite a bit lately, and I've come to the conclusion that this is really how America ends. Wallowing in its own stupidity, locked down by the authorities because we're afraid of everything we don't understand (which is everything, due to ignorance), and decrying any interest in something other than pop culture as suspicious.

    When I was a kid some forty years ago, it was still possible to learn, make, see, and do things without nine layers of security clearances and being met with "you can't do X because terrorists/drugs" at every turn. Now, the only reasonable explanation for why you're interested in something is because you do it for work. And because some company makes you do it for money, now it's suddenly okay. Building anything with wires sticking out that beeps? Terrorist.
      Learning chemistry at home? Terrorist or maybe the next Walter White. Interest in trucks/trains/planes and not a truck driver/engineer/pilot? Terrorist. Interested in power generation/distribution but not a power EE? Terrorist. Interested in computer security research? Cyberterrorist! Aiieeee! I could go on and on and on here...

    Hey wait a minute - you know how most of the good people in those fields got there? Because it's what interested them before they did it as a job. In the past, there were always ways to learn about these things, particularly as a kid. Folks willing to show you around, show you what they did, explain how things worked, and sometimes let you help. I can't tell you the number of things I got to try out as a kid that would now get somebody fired and probably grilled by some three letter agency. But it's because of those experiences that I'm a successful electrical engineer today who loves it as both his profession and passion. I didn't just pick a job off the list, say "that looks good and pays well", and then decide to spend my life doing it. The folks I know who did that have already washed out and gone looking for something they enjoy more.

    The next generation is boned. Their curiosity about things is being actively destroyed when its met with suspicion and investigation rather than encouragement or better - "Ssh, don't tell anybody, but put this hard hat on and come with me..." This is just one example.

    Yeah, there's definitely a racist problem here as well (it *IS* Texas, folks...), but I think focusing on that is missing the real point. It's not just non-white kids. The powers that be have taught us to regard everything with suspicion rather than curiosity. Yet I ask you - how many kids have you seen today who are terrorists vs. how many have you seen who need to learn about the world and figure out what they want to do with their lives?

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