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Texas High School Student Arrested After Homemade Clock Mistaken For Bomb


Ahmed Mohamed is a freshman at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas. He was put in handcuffs this week, accused of trying to make a bomb after he brought a clock that he made to school. Today, police announced they will not file charges against him. NPR's Kat Chow reports the controversy has raised questions about technology, racial profiling and students.

KAT CHOW, BYLINE: Ahmed Mohamed is 14 years old. He likes gadgets, inventing things. He was in robotics club in middle school.


AHMED MOHAMED: I made a clock. It was really. I wanted to show her something small at first.

CHOW: That's him in a video for The Dallas Morning News. He's describing what happened. He brought in a digital clock made from circuit boards and wires he threw together the night before. He showed it off to an engineering teacher who told him to keep it to himself. Later, in English class, the clock sounded off from inside his bag.


AHMED: But it took a wrong point, and they thought it was a bomb. So I got arrested for a hoax bomb. An officer and the principal came and took me up, and they took me to a room filled with five officers, which - they interrogated me.

CHOW: On the day this happened, he was wearing a NASA T-shirt. He says he was asked if he was trying to make a bomb. Mohamed's family is Muslim. His dad immigrated from Sudan. Today, Irving police chief Larry Boyd defended his department, saying this would have happened regardless of Mohamed's race or religion.


LARRY BOYD: Our reaction would've been the same either way. That's a very suspicious device. We live in an age where you can't take things like that to school.

CHOW: Lesley Weaver is a spokeswoman for the Irving School District. She says it's protocol to ask students and staff to flag any suspicious items or behaviors.

LESLEY WEAVER: If something is out of the ordinary, the information should be reported immediately to a administrator and/or the police so that it can be addressed right away.

CHOW: That sort of no-tolerance atmosphere - it's common in schools around the nation. Last week, an eighth-grade boy in Maryland made headlines. He was arrested and charged with assault for kissing a girl at school on a dare. But others in Irving and online say there's more going on. The city has a couple hundred-thousand residents with a growing South Asian population and a recent history of anti-Muslim sentiment. Tariq Jaffery is with the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

TARIQ JAFFERY: Definitely the environment that our mayor has been created in the city of Irving is very, very different from what it used to be some six, eight months ago.

CHOW: Jaffery is talking about Irving mayor Beth Van Duyne. She became notorious for her anti-Muslim sentiments earlier this year.


BETH VAN DUYNE: Well, I would say that we were not targeting them. I'd argue that they were targeting us.

CHOW: Here's Van Duyne in March on the conservative show "The Blaze." She's defending a city council vote that says people should adhere to American law. It was part of a controversy over what she termed a Sharia law court.


VAN DUYNE: We asked the members of the mosque, are you supportive of our American laws? Are you supportive in following our Texas state statutes?

CHOW: As for Mohamed, watching his passion for science and technology land him in handcuffs, he says that didn't feel so great.


AHMED: It made me feel like I wasn't human. It made me feel like a criminal.

CHOW: A criminal in his eyes at the time, but to others now, a role model. President Obama tweeted at Mohamed today. Obama called the clock cool and said Mohamed is an inspiration. Though Mohamed says he will no longer take his inventions to school, the president invited him to bring his clock to the White House. Kat Chow, NPR News, Dallas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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