AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas teenager taken away in handcuffs this week for bringing to his Dallas-area school a homemade clock that staff mistook for a bomb won a personal invitation from President Barack Obama on Wednesday to visit the White House.
Ahmed Mohamed, 14, was accused of making a hoax bomb, police in Irving said. The Council on American-Islamic Relations said he is Muslim and the case serves as an example of the climate of hate and manufactured fear around the religion.
The bespectacled Mohamed is a ninth grader who was led away in handcuffs and a NASA T-shirt from MacArthur High School on Monday for a project he put together to impress his new high school classmates and teachers.
On Wednesday, he became an Internet sensation.
“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,” a message on Obama’s Twitter feed said.
The White House invited Mohamed to participate in its astronomy night next month with NASA astronauts and other young people, spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.
“In this instance, it’s clear that at least some of Ahmed’s teachers failed him. That’s too bad,” he said.
Mohamed told a news conference in front of his house that he was going to Washington for the White House Astronomy Night.
Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg also invited the teenager to drop by his California-based company.
“Having the skill and ambition to build something cool should lead to applause, not arrest,” he wrote on his Facebook page.
The incident has launched a social media campaign called #IStandWithAhmed, which was the No. 1 trending topic in the United States on Twitter for most of Wednesday with nearly 1 million tweets, many critical of the school district and police.
“I built the clock to impress my teacher but when I showed it to her, she thought it was a threat to her. It was really sad that she took the wrong impression of it and I got arrested for it later that day,” he said.
The teenager who dabbles in robotics said he was encouraged by the social media support, loved to invent things and will be looking to transfer to a different high school.
The Irving Independent School District stood behind the teacher.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we had to take action,” spokeswoman Lesley Weaver said.
Mohamed was handcuffed and taken to a detention center where he was fingerprinted and had mug shots taken. He was freed when his parents came for him.
Police said the device, which had a digital display and circuit board, was in a case and could be mistaken for a bomb.
Police spokesman James McLellan said Mohamed’s religion had nothing to do with their response.
Two school police officers initially questioned the student and he told them he had built a clock.
“He didn’t explain properly what it was and they felt compelled to arrest him,” McLellan said.
No charges were filed and police said they considered the case closed.
Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Additional reporting by Lisa Maria Garza in Dallas, Lisa Lambert and Roberta Rampton in Washington; Editing by Bill Trott and Eric Walsh