How student Ahmed Mohamed went from suspected bomb maker to overnight celebrity
Once upon a time, if you did something famous you got to look into a camera and tell the world that you are going to Disneyland. That’s just about the only place that is not on the itinerary of Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas student who made a clock that a teacher feared was a bomb, setting off a series of events that turned the ninth-grader into a social-media symbol of official overreaction to his Muslim religion.
Ahmed, just 14, will get to visit the White House next month to attend an astronomy conference. Invitations have been pouring in to visit Facebook, to attend a Google science fair and to take an internship with Twitter. He even got social-media support from scientists at NASA, whose T-shirt Ahmed wore when he was handcuffed at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, after he brought his clock to class Monday.
In addition, close to a million people in the last 24 hours jumped on his bandwagon and sent out tweets with the supportive hashtag #IstandwithAhmed, according to Topsy, a social analytics site.
Even though Ahmed will not face any criminal charges, the incident left a bad taste and the student said he will not return to the school from which he was suspended. He also wants his clock back from police.
“This isn’t my first invention and it won’t be my last invention,” Ahmed said Thursday in an appearance on “Good Morning America.”
While he is thankful for what all of his supporters have done, there is one invitation that stands out, he told the television show. He said he is most excited to have heard from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“I dream of going there,” he said.
Driving the viral response has been questions about whether Ahmed had been targeted by officials because he is Muslim. Civil-rights groups complained that if Ahmed had been a white student, the clock would have been seen as nothing more than an electronic timepiece.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said Wednesday that the incident was a case study in unreasoned prejudice in an era when the country is fighting Islamic terrorism at home and in the Middle East.
“This episode is a good illustration of how pernicious stereotypes can prevent even good-hearted people who have dedicated their lives to educating young people from doing the good work that they set out to do,” Earnest told reporters. Ahmed was invited the White House for Astronomy Night on Oct. 19, to spend time stargazing from the South Lawn.
Local police said Ahmed’s Muslim religion didn’t figure into their response.
Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said at a televised news conference on Wednesday that his officers acted properly given what they knew at the time. Asked whether the police would have reacted differently if Ahmed had been white, Boyd said officers would have followed the same procedures.
“You can’t take things like that to school,” he said of the digital display and a circuit board connected to a power source, all within a box.
Ahmed said he made the clock to show off what he could build. When it beeped at one point, he said he showed it to a teacher. “She thought it was a threat to her,” Ahmed told reporters Wednesday at a televised news conference. “So it was really sad that she took a wrong impression of it.”
But also driving the story was America’s love of inventors and those who tinker. From Eli Whitney, who invented the cotton gin in the 18th century, to Henry Ford and the assembly line of cars to Silicon Valley, invention has been part of the nation’s DNA for centuries.
“Cool clock, Ahmed,” President Obama said on Twitter. “Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It’s what makes America great.”
“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.”
At the news conference, Ahmed’s father, Mohamed El Hassan, 54, who immigrated here from Sudan, praised his son’s ingenuity. The boy, he said, had fixed the family car, the phone, a computer, and had even built a go-kart. Building a clock was just something the boy did and the official response was just not right.
“That is not America,” he said of his son’s being taken into custody. “That is not us. That is not like us.”
Follow @latimesmuskal for national news.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.