A high-schooler, a clock, a bomb?

L’affaire Ahmed has been reverberating across my facebook feed for a while now, and it looks like we’ve gotten about all the facts that are going to be shaken loose outside of discovery in a civil suit (if there is one). And while I can’t say I’m surprised at some of the knicker-twisting, I’m a little disappointed. First, a picture of the clock (or hoax bomb). CNN says this is police provided. No real scale is provided, but note the power plug – the case is approximately the size of the top half of a piece of paper, when closed, per this amazon listing. (Amazon listing complete with self-amusing internet jokers in comments)


clockbox closeup

According to this post and comments (which is where I pulled the above pics from), the guts are a 1970s-1980s vintage digital clock, contained in a pencil box available on Amazon. Since the CNN article notes that it was discovered in Ahmed’s backpack when an alarm went off, I’m going to assume that there was a 9V battery in place at the time (or some other on-board power source since removed).

Now, there are (at least) two competing narratives running around. Ahmed’s story is that he made this as an alarm clock, brought it in to show a teacher, and then another teacher discovered it and brought it to the attention of the authorities, who then flipped out, etc. The other narrative is that he deliberately made a fake bomb, and allowed it to be discovered, because Reasons. The second narrative really doesn’t pass Occam’s Razor for me, though. First, that’s a really bad fake IED. A real IED is supposed to be innocuous, of course, and not draw attention to itself until too late. A fake one, that you might want to use in a bomb scare, on the other hand, needs to be obvious. This is a pencil box when closed up, with nothing (except possibly the power cord) showing on the outside to make you think it’s anything else. And when it’s open, where’s the “payload?” Even Hollywood Bombs have obvious explosives in them. No play-doh, no red-painted cylinders with wires coming off of them, nothing that shouts “I’m a thirty-minute bomb, I’m a thirty-minute bomb!” Secondly, there’s the whole “he didn’t make that” meme, because it’s a commercial product, disassembled and half-way mounted into the case; rather than being a from-scratch project. The thing is, it’s a 30-ish year old clock, in a recent case. There’s an incongruity there that irks me. Finally, Ahmed’s behavior doesn’t fit. Why did he establish the device was his own practically as the first thing he did upon bringing it to school, and why did he maintain possession of it the entire time he was in school?

Here’s my theory. A 14-year old tinkerer was bored one day and opened up a broken alarm clock made before he was born, and got it working again (loose wire, broken solder, what have you). He decides to install the repaired clock into a pencil case, and he’s “made” himself a custom alarm clock from stuff lying around his desk. In a fit of 14-year-old enthusiasm and forethought typical of 14-year-old enthusiasm, he takes this alarm clock he made into school to show his friends and teachers this cool thing he did. In previous times, it might have been a shiny new pocketknife, or a wrist rocket (slingshot), etc. He shows it to a friendly teacher, who may have encouraged his ambitions, but tells him to keep it out of view because someone might overreact. Ahmed goes on with his day, forgetting he has an alarm set (or not knowing. I have a similar vintage alarm clock that is distressingly easy to accidentally arm the alarm on, and it’s defaulted to 0000 hrs. Very annoying). Alarm goes off in his backpack, disrupts class, teacher wants to see, teacher freaks. Then the school administration, being a bunch of zero-tolerance idiots, freaks and bring in Johnny Law. Ahmed insists he’s done nothing wrong – it’s a clock, see? Keeps time and everything. Possibly following the advice given out regularly around these parts of “don’t talk to the law without a lawyer.” The notable thing at this point is that the school administration never believed it was a real bomb, since they didn’t do evacuate the school or otherwise put into action bomb-scare plans. Instead, they jumped right to bringing down the hammer on what, at most, is a little understandable high-school-frosh eager stupidity, and thus splashing this all over the country.

Bringing the thing into school wasn’t the wisest idea in the world, and I’m not going to say the school should have not reacted at all, but calling the cops in and interrogating a student without benefit of counsel with the cops present? Yeesh.

41 Responses to “A high-schooler, a clock, a bomb?”

  1. beatbox says:

    The worst was the police response:

    “The student would only say that it was a clock and was not forthcoming at that time about any other details. Having no other information to go on…the student was taking into custody.”

    So when asks the kid says it is a clock. (the truth) and gets arrested for it.

  2. Jake says:

    This is the first write-up I’ve seen of this mess that actually makes sense of the whole thing.

    Sadly, the media and the nutjobs (Right and Left) have managed to take control of it all, so we’ll probably never get verification of your theory.

    • Sigivald says:

      YEah, it makes the most sense to me.

      I have been disgusted by the Right response (the Left one, less so, in this particular case).

      “Obviously a CAIR plot from the start!” … yeah, no.

      And “Dude, his name is MUHAMMED and it was the WEEK OF 9/11!!!”.

      These things remind me, to use Hayek’s phrase, “Why I Am Not A Conservative”.

      • Jake says:

        It’s a variant of Hanlon’s Razor. They are ascribing to malice that which can be adequately explained by teenage foolishness.

        • Ian Argent says:

          Well, some of them are ascribing malice to the father. I still think Hanlon and Occam shred the arguments in either case.

          When I recall a couple of bouts of teenagicus dummasseri that I went through, I have no problem seeing that as the root cause..

  3. Klyde says:

    Digital clock kits, as electronic education project tools, have been available since the first numerical displays became available.
    It is likely this fourteen year old assembled one of the kits and brought it to school to display his abilities with a soldering iron, or, design adaptation.
    What you have to further examine is the habitat in which this individual lives. Allegedly, his home environment is what prompted the police to question motives.

    • Ian Argent says:

      I’m convinced by the arguments presented that the guts of the project came from a disassembled mid-eighties digital clock and that minimal changes were made. At most, he repaired and remounted it in a different case. He may just have remounted the parts of a working clock in a different case.

      On the other hand, I don’t think you have to bring up prejudice to explain why Ahmed got sat down with the cops – Zero-Tolerance idiocy is no respecter of race, creed, or class.

    • “It is likely this fourteen year old assembled one of the kits and brought it to school to display his abilities with a soldering iron, or, design adaptation.”

      NO. It is clearly the Radio Shack clock. Look, I took these apart when I was a kid, too. I immediately recognized the board are being of 80’s design, with obvious hand-drawn traces.

    • Sebastian says:

      It’s definitely a commercial board.

    • Ian Argent says:

      Incidentally, it really doesn’t matter whether he assembled it from a project kit or from the parts scavenged from a commercial clock – the project kits aren’t all THAT complicated, generally consisting of having to make wiring connections between prefab components; just as he would have had to have done to rehome the components from the commercial clock.

  4. asdf says:

    I still think it was a hoax designed to provide a convenient example of “racism” to whine about.

    Face it, this kid trolled the entire country and the entire country took the bait. He even made a dick out of the president and Zuckerburg.

    • dave says:

      Like any of that isn’t just too easy to achieve? What the heck.

      Z and O are dicks, and this whole nation is just way too ready to get worked up about anything. It’s like we’ve all forgotten how to say things like “I don’t give a rat’s ass” and “sounds to me like it’s YOUR problem and not mine”.

      We spend so much energy on ANY kind of stupidity that anyone can invent that in 10 years we’ll all be too tired to even watch the news. Maybe then the nonsense will stop.

  5. Thirdpower says:

    There are dozens of zero intelligence victims across the nation. The reason this is news is that his heritage fits the narrative of both sides.

  6. Bill says:

    In the immortal words of Admiral Ackbar: It is not a clock, “It’s a trap!” That appears to have sprung and done what it was supposed to do.

  7. Ian Argent says:

    I’m not going to categorically rule out that could not be a racism troll or a zero-tolerance troll, but that’s way out in the weeds of possibilities. The details of the device argue against it being intended to be perceived as a bomb. If it’s not intended to be perceived as a bomb, it’s a really poor bait for either trap.

  8. Rob says:

    I think what I find amusing more are the people who over think this..
    I would be remiss if I said I didn’t take apart and kit bash many pieces of electronics over the years. In my Middle School and High School years it was the desire to find out what makes things work that drove my ability to think outside the box.. What I see here is a Kid who is now punished for thinking outside the box..
    Was it stupid to bring into School.. depends I had friends into this stuff, and a teacher who was even more into it then we were. We made robots out of Kitchen trash cans, RC cars and LED wiring kits.. Seriously!

    We also need to remember he is 14… who didn’t do stupid stuff when we were 14!

    As for the Tinfoil hatters out there.. no comment.. I have a few in my family that make my head hurt.

    If I was a parent in this school I would seriously be questioning the qualifications of those educating my child..

  9. Overload in CO says:

    I believe the Zero Tolerance part. Administrators don’t want to take any responsibility so they had to suspend the kid. It was policy.
    This is why Zero Tolerance sucks and I’m 99.9% against it.

  10. asdf says:

    Oh my God listen to yourselves! You guys can bend yourselves in knots if you want but this kid knew exactly what he was doing and everybody (left and right) swallowed the hook, line, and sinker.

    I give him an A+ on a trolling operation done right.

  11. Sebastian says:

    If the fathers background was less politically connected, if he wasn’t a prominent Muslim liberal, I wouldn’t agree with asdf. But I think we were trolled.

  12. Ian Argent says:

    Sebastian brings up the reasons I can’t rule out this being an elaborate troll. But it would be an elaborate plan, overly so, IMO.

    • asdf says:

      No, not really elaborate at all. The reaction of school officials, and the counter-reaction of the SJW’s are entirely predictable without even giving it much thought.

      • Ian Argent says:

        Too many moving parts, in a philosophical sense, and not enough margin for error. In particular, the events needed to go viral quick enough, and that’s not impossible to predict with any degree of accuracy. I’m not going to say people haven’t pulled such stunts, but they also have a large chance of going horribly wrong

        • asdf says:

          I couldn’t disagree more. The result was almost guaranteed. There are legions of SJW types on Twitter just waiting to pounce on a story like this (so they can smugly signal their anti-racist bona fides to the world), while on the other hand Texas is full of overzealous “national greatness” conservatives who are guaranteed to overreact and set the whole thing into motion.

          It doesn’t take a whole lot of calculation at all to make something like this happen.

          • Alpheus says:

            It’s also possible that if the father were the instigator of this, it’s entirely possible that he even intended to make a local stir, and didn’t expect it to blow up nationally like this…

            He may be pleased it did, but it might not have been in the original plans. Sometimes things take on a life of their own.

      • Sebastian says:

        It’s really no different than if Bitter and I had a school age kid and sent him to school with an NRA shirt that depicted some kind of target shooting on the back. Then running to the NRA and the media playing up our victim status.

        Note that we would not do that, because neither of us dig that kind of activism, but it wouldn’t be all that elaborate.

        • Ian Argent says:

          Enh – in one case you have a t-shirt, and in the other, a (fake) bomb. There is a teeny difference there. (Also, the courts are more likely to heed Tinker that Heller).

  13. asdf says:

    For the record, just because this kid trolled the entire country, this still doesn’t mean that “zero tolerance” is justified.

    • Bill Twist says:

      *IF* he trolled, he trolled like Rosa Parks.

      • asdf says:

        Hey, you said it, but I was thinking the same..

        • Bill Twist says:

          You don’t often hear it, but she was heavily involved in the NAACP, and they were looking for an opportunity. Two prior women (well, teen girls actually) had done the same thing, but because they weren’t respectable, mature, middle class black women, the NAACP didn’t press those cases. Rosa Parks was perfect for the role: mature, respectable, calm and rational enough to not get angry or physical.

          And just because it was almost certainly on purpose doesn’t make it *WRONG*. Sometimes idiots need to be trolled to expose their idiocy for all the World to see. Planning ahead of time allows you to control what happens to a much greater degree.

          So if young Master Mohamed and/or his father trolled the school, good for them. I applaud their actions in confirming what I always say:


          But honestly, Occams Razor suggests to me that the story is much as it has been reported. Some nerd built a clock from the stuff in his junk box, brought it in to impress a technology teacher, and some non-tech teacher, the principal, and the police all assumed the worst because the kid is a Muslim.

  14. Ian Argent says:

    Also, I should point out that if events proceeded as I suspect; Ahmed is still guilty of aggravated dumbassery and ought to have been made to write “I will not disrupt the school day with half-baked projects.” one thousand times on the blackboard and his father told to come pick him up immediately after and let him sit out the next couple of days on a suspension. This for letting the second teacher see the silly thing after having been warned. Actions should have consequences, but they should be calibrated.

    • Patrick says:

      Do you feel the same way about a kid who chews a pop-tart into a gun; points his fingers at a school mate and says “bang!”; wears an NRA or Marine Corps T-Shirt; or who intimates that a tree branch is a rifle?

      My young kids share all kinds of experiences that could run them afoul a nanny-ish response from their schools. We walk the line all the time, but with the low bar you suggest (punishing even though literally nothing bad happened), it makes the walk all but impossible.

      Under your standard, I guess we don’t actually have to make a weapon or a credible threat but rather simply offend the sensitivities of those who think it kinda, sorta might be a bad idea (aka: “dumbassery”).

      Should we punish because some think it’s dumbassery, even though literally no weapon and no threat existed — because: feelings?

      Hell no.

      It’s not a bomb. Only a idiot would look at bare boards and a display and think it was a bomb. That is not a bomb and it was never intimated to be one (unlike a tree branch that some kid pretends is a rifle). The police acknowledge they never considered it anything but a clock.

      So why should the kid be punished, even if it’s minor?

      This is a serious question aimed at a serious person: why would you punish some kid, not because he did something wrong, but because of some teacher’s over-sensitive reaction?

      • Ian Argent says:

        “Aggravated” dumbassery – he got caught with the silly thing after being told to keep it out of sight. Disrupted class with it, even. I will point out that I’d be moderately displeased with a kid whose cell-phone alarm went off in class, too, after being warned. There’s no constitutional right to an alarm clock in school, as far as I can tell.

        OK, perhaps a multi-day suspenison is a little over the top; but he doesn’t get off scot-free for doing something he was told not to do, IE, get himself caught with the clock.

        • Patrick says:

          OK, I am with you on kids who disrupt class should be dealt with. They should get the Bart Simpson treatment, for sure.

          This is more than philosophy for us. My wife and I talk about these issues all the time with our kids (one private school; one public).

          Our 7-year-old daughter shoots bow just about every day, and shoots rifles occasionally. She is way beyond the princess stage and rather than mimic one of those Frozen characters she wants to be the axe-wielding, ass-kicking girl from How To Train Your Dragon. She’s also hunted (kinda).

          So you see why this kind of Zero-T stuff worries us. She’s a sweet kid and her teachers love her. But one of these days some other teacher is going to hear her tell the wrong story, and…?

      • GMC70 says:

        But today, in our state of perpetually panty-wadding, school administrators are routinely idiots, wedded to “zero tolerance” because it saves them from having to make the judgment calls that frankly they are paid to make and lets them instead pass the buck to some nameless unaccountable “policy.”

        There have been far too many anecdotes of school administration idiocy, and far too often followed up by law enforcement stupidity. If we were trolled, I say congratulations. Perhaps – maybe – we can put the spotlight on this zero tolerance dumbassery and begin to end it.

        If parents showed up, en masse, to the local school boards demanding changes, we could put a stop to this sort of idiocy. But they don’t. Because it’s not their kid.


        • Ian Argent says:

          In the course of discussion here, I’ve concluded that, if it was a trolling, aimed either at ZT idiocy or bigots, then good on the trolls. Some people deserve to be trolled.

  15. Roberta X says:

    …The salient phrase here being “high school freshman.” Jeez, the number of people smokin’ the Kool-Ade over this is distressing.

    • Ian Argent says:

      The age of the primary actor was a primary factor in my theory of the incident, yes. It also argues against this being the father’s attempt at a troll. If it goes off successfully, his son gets arrested at the very least, and if it all goes pear-shaped, the kid gets beaten to the point of crippling or death, “resisting arrest while being MOOSLIM!” I’m aware that there are people who could do that to their own son, but they’re generally either screwed up enough that I question their ability to concoct a carefully-calibrated plan (IE, using a Obviously-not-a-bomb bait), or are much more in much more desperate circumstances than this family is in (IE, in a Palestinian refugee camp).

  16. scott says:

    The was a stunt by this Muslim family.

    His father is supposedly a Muslim “activist” and owns a trucking company call “Twin Towers Trucking”.

    If that is true then there is no doubt this was intentional effort to cause a scandal.

    that said, the school and police were stupid, the boy should have just been sent to detention for a period or 2 for dis-rupting class.

    As it is the Muslims now have another “Islamaphobia” scandal to tout.