Two months after “clock kid” Ahmed Mohamed made international headlines, new details of his controversial arrest emerged Monday in a letter his attorney has sent to school and city officials in Irving, Tex.
As many as seven adults teamed up to interrogate the 14-year-old boy after a teacher mistook his homemade clock for a bomb and pressured him to sign a confession, according to the “letter of demand” from his lawyer warning of plans to file a $15 million suit.
Ahmed’s September arrest, deemed an overreaction by many observers, drew waves of sympathy and extensive news coverage; President Obama invited him to join several other science-inclined students at the White House’s “Astronomy Night” last month.
But his family, which shortly thereafter took up a benefactor’s offer to relocate to Qatar, argued in the letter that the boy’s reputation has been “permanently scarred.” They are seeking not only financial reparations but written apologies from the city’s mayor and police chief.
“Everyone in the country and around the world believes this has been a wonderful experience for Ahmed’s family, and in some ways, it has been,” said Anthony Bond, a family friend. “But now they are settled in Qatar, they have realized they are tremendously traumatized.”
The letters elaborate on the timeline of the arrest, which set the Internet into a frenzy and changed a 14-year-old boy’s life forever. Though the family left the United States in October, the story is still reverberating in Ahmed’s hometown, where a group carrying guns and anti-Muslim signs staged a protest outside a mosque this past weekend.
Religion and race were at the center of the controversy over Ahmed’s arrest. For some, it amounted to the unfair profiling of a young Muslim of Sudanese descent, while others saw his case as a bid for media attention.
The letter of demand alleges that officials at Ahmed’s school never really thought that his homemade clock, assembled from “spare parts and scrap pieces he had around the house,” was a bomb. Attorneys claim that Ahmed showed it to another teacher earlier in the day without consequence. But in his English class, a teacher told him it “looked like” a bomb.
“The basis for Ms. West’s actions is unclear. She certainly did not treat the clock as though it were dangerous. Ms. West initially placed the clock on her desk,” the letter states.
Ahmed was escorted out of class and taken to a room where five Irving Police Department officers, the principal and assistant principal performed an “interrogation,” attorneys said. He was not permitted to contact his parents and was “pressured to sign a written statement admitting that he intended to bring a ‘hoax bomb’ to school.” The letter states that the principal threatened that he would be expelled if he did not sign the confession.
An Irving School District spokeswoman said the district received the letter of demand this morning and that its own lawyers would “respond as appropriate, as with any legal matter,” but otherwise offered no comment.
Attorneys blame the school district and the city for “stoking the flames” and placing blame on Ahmed even after it was decided he would not be criminally charged and his “suspicious-looking item” was not a threat.
A week after the arrest, Irving Mayor Beth Van Duyne told Glenn Beck that another side of the story was not being told. She referred to the item as a “hoax bomb,” not a clock, and said that Ahmed was not cooperative during questioning by police.
“He told a lot more to the reporters than he ever told to the police,” Van Duyne said. “There’s a problem with that. If your child was in that school and you saw something like this come in, you would want to make sure it is our priority to make our children safe in school, period.”
The family is demanding an apology from Van Duyne and others involved because they would like to return to Irving, attorney Kelly Hollingsworth said.
“Qatar is nice, but it is not Texas. That is their attitude toward this,” Hollingsworth said. “They are citizens of Irving, Texas, USA, first. Are they devout people devoted to their faith? Absolutely. But they are Texans, too, and they want to come home. What we are seeking is for them to be able to do that with their heads held high.”
Hollingsworth’s letter paints a picture of the unpredictable consequences of going viral in 2015. When Ahmed woke up on Sept. 14, he was a normal, unknown teenager. By that evening, he had been recognized by President Obama, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and thousands of people who chimed in on the Twitter hashtag #IStandWithAhmed.
But the Internet backlash was loud and persistent: The demand letter states that one blog post superimposed Ahmed’s face on an image of Osama bin Laden and described him as a “little terrorist in training”; other people posted the Mohamed family’s home address on Twitter.
Meanwhile, some detractors have claimed that the entire incident was a publicity stunt planned by Ahmed’s father, Mohamed Elhassan, a former candidate for the presidency of Sudan — or that the “homemade clock” was actually a store-bought model, not a work of precocious ingenuity.
“The generosity and support Ahmed has received has been very much appreciated, but what the system has to do is try to find a way to redress him,” Hollingsworth said. “What’s the effect of this young man having his reputation in the global community scarred for the rest of his life?”