IRVING, Texas – Encouragement poured in from across the nation for a 14-year-old Muslim boy whose homemade electronic clock led to his detention and suspension from school, with President Barack Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and a NASA scientist among those offering support.
As word spread that Ahmed Mohamed had been placed in handcuffs after coming to class with the clock that officials at his suburban Dallas school thought resembled a bomb, the teen became a star on social media, with the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed tweeted more than 1 million times by Wednesday night. Many also took to social media to criticize police and officials at MacArthur High School, suspecting them of overreacting because of the boy's religion. Officials say the boy's religion was not a factor.
In a tweet, Obama called Ahmed's clock "cool" and said more kids should be inspired like him to enjoy science, because "it's what makes America great."
Ahmed was invited to participate in an astronomy night the White House is organizing sometime next month with premier scientists.
In a post to his site, Zuckerberg said, "Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause."
"Ahmed, if you ever want to come by Facebook, I'd love to meet you," Zuckerberg posted. "Keep building."
Bobak Ferdowsi, a science planner engineer on NASA's Cassini space probe to Saturn, joined in. In a tweet, Ferdowsi said, "I can't imagine if be working @nasa today if anything like this had ever happened to me." He later tweeted, "Hey Ahmed, give me a call in a couple years. We could always use smart, curious & creative people."
Ahmed's father, Mohamed Elhassan Mohamed, a Sudanese immigrant, said at a press conference in front of his family's home that he was moved by the support for his son. He said Ahmed is an electronics whiz who repairs the family's clocks and phones.
"I am grateful to the United States of America," he said, attributing the widespread support to "something that was touching the heart for everybody."
Ahmed was pulled from class Monday and taken to a detention center after showing the digital clock to teachers at his school in Irving.
Irving Police Chief Larry Boyd said the clock looked "suspicious in nature," but said there was no evidence the boy meant to cause alarm at school. Boyd considers the case closed.
He said the reaction to the clock "would have been the same regardless" of Ahmed's religion.
"We live in an age where you can't take things like that to school," Boyd said.
Ahmed was still suspended by school officials. He said Wednesday that his family is looking for a new school for him after he was placed in handcuffs.
"I built the clock to impress my teacher, but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her. So it was really sad she took the wrong impression of it," Ahmed said at the press conference.
School district spokeswoman Lesley Weaver declined to confirm the suspension, citing privacy laws. Weaver insisted school officials were concerned with student safety and not the boy's faith.
Police have an "outstanding relationship" with the Muslim community in Irving, Boyd said, adding that he planned to meet the boy's father to address any concerns.
This spring, the city council endorsed one of several bills under discussion in the Texas Legislature that would forbid judges from rulings based on "foreign laws" — legislation opponents view as unnecessary and driven by anti-Muslim sentiment.
Warren contributed from Dallas.