Another Teen Frightens School Personnel With Technical Stuff; Panic, Stupidity Fail To Ensue

from the where-did-all-this-logic-and-restraint-come-from? dept

Ahmed Mohamed, age 14, arrived at school with a clock sitting inside a pencil box. It was obviously a hoax bomb, which is a Texas thing that allows people who don’t possess bombs to be prosecuted as if they did. Fun stuff. I’m sure everyone involved wishes their day had gone another way — with the exception of Ahmed Mohamed, who has now been invited to Facebook, the White House and MIT. Everyone on the other side of the equation has been invited to do other stuff — most of it involving nearly-impossible sexual acts or perversely scatalogical feats.

Here’s another story about a student with an interest in things school personnel tend to find inordinately worrying. The climate of fear far too many schools actively encourage with zero tolerance policies played a part here, as did law enforcement’s worrying willingness to feed off the negative energy this climate generates. On the plus side, overreaction and idiocy played nearly no part in this incident.

Lt. Raul Denis, spokesman for the Horry County Police Department, says someone found the two notebooks containing disturbing material inside a classroom at Forestbrook Middle School. A school resource officer was alerted of the discovery last Wednesday.

The notebooks belonged to an autistic 13-year-old. Here’s what police found inside them:

Police say the journals contained information on “sensitive subjects like weapons and explosives science, maps, blue prints, jobs and stories pertaining to a video game called Balloon Tower Defense 5.” Denis said in a release there was also a reference to a school the student had once attended.

The contents have not been published, so we’ll never know how much of a threat was posed by the teen’s Balloon Tower Defense fan fiction. The “sensitive subjects” deemed “disturbing” by the school are also easily Googled subjects. And this student was hardly the first teen boy to express an interest in weapons and explosives. Perhaps the real problem was the mention of a school, which is like waving a red flag in front of a bull camera in front of a tank factory.

But there’s a happy-ish ending to this story. While we may find issue with the contents of the notebook being inherently suspicious, the police did the sort of thing they’re supposed to do: they investigated before leaping to ridiculous conclusions.

For a very brief period, the autistic teen was facing charges for “disturbing school.” The statute is, as expected, incredibly vague, which makes it a handy thing to use to detain teens with scary notebooks while everything is sorted out.

(A) It shall be unlawful:

(1) for any person wilfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State

The rest of the statute deals with loitering and “acting in an obnoxious manner.”

But this was a very brief detention. The police did all the things they should have done. They determined there was nothing threatening about the contents. They discovered the teen had no access to weapons or explosives. Most importantly, they CONTACTED HIS PARENTS, who explained everything.

“The investigation and examination of the journals found that the child is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and is highly intelligent, and the journals, which the parents were aware of, are used as a therapeutic/comforting mechanism,” Denis said in a press release. “the child focuses on these subjects because he dreams of being a nuclear engineer.”

At which point, the student was released to his parents and the charge dropped. It would have been better if this could have been conducted without detaining the teen, but considering all the variables, this went about as well as can be expected in the zero tolerance era.

Filed Under: , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Another Teen Frightens School Personnel With Technical Stuff; Panic, Stupidity Fail To Ensue”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The are in full on See Something Do Something or We’ll be Liable!
There was an odd shaped cloud, put the school on lockdown, because if it turns out it was a fighter plane about to gun down all the children we’d be responsible!!!

Parents have abdicated their responsibilities to society to handle, so you have to be as idiotic as the dumbest parent (or most vocal voter). The policies are written to cover their ass to the utmost and professionals are supposed to be the cooler heads… and sadly many times they get whipped into the hysteria and go full bore.

Mike, no the other Mike. says:

Why would detainment during the investigation not be warranted?

I understand it was all about nothing, but how do you ask questions to someone that isn’t there?

I’m glad the cops had a moment of sanity, but I don’t think detainment was unwarranted. Especially when after calling the parents it was all cleared up.

DCL says:

Re: Re:

Well if they actually had a bomb or a gun, sure detainment would be warranted…

If the “weapons and explosives science, maps, blue prints, jobs and stories” were for the actual school and real weapons (and not a game) then, yeah detainment would be warranted.

Being detained just for having a journal for something that looks scary but can be easily be identified as fantasy is problematic. I would have spent ALOT of time being detained since I normally had “blueprints for weapons and stories” for various Role playing games like D&D and Robotech. I even made a role playing game based on maps of the city about defending against a Soviet attack (it was the 80’s and was into Tom Clancy novels). That probably would get me on the No Fly list these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why would detainment during the investigation not be warranted?

Because there was no crime. There was a notebook. The proper procedure is not to make an arrest and THEN read the notebooks to see that there’s no threat. The proper procedure is to read the notebook, see there is no threat, and return the notebook to the student without arresting him.

They arrested him under a law that seems unconstitutionally broad, especially as they applied it here. The notebook “disturbed” someone? That’s enough to get him arrested?

I understand it was all about nothing, but how do you ask questions to someone that isn’t there?

Asking questions and arresting someone are not the same thing. And he has a 5th Amendment right to not incriminate himself – he does not have to answer their questions. (Speaking of the 5th Amendment, there’s also a right to not be deprived of liberty without due process of law. You can’t just arrest someone for no good reason.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Or vs and

(A) It shall be unlawful:
(1) for any person wilfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State”

Willfully OR unnecessarily? So if it was necessary (like, if you pulled the fire alarm because there was an actual fire) you could still go to jail? Or if you accidentally trip the alarm because someone pushed you into it, you could go to jail because it was unnecessary even though it was not willful?

Also, I don’t think “wilfully” is how you spell that word.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Or vs and

And to take that a step further, if you willfully or unnecessarily disturb in ANY way or in ANY place the students or teachers of any school in the State, you are guilty. A brother annoys a sister at home? Guilty; she’s a student, and it says in ANY place. I post a comment on my blog unnecessarily expressing my totally unrelated thoughts on a topic totally unrelated to this? Guilty; I still disturbed a teacher in South Carolina even though I’m not from that state.

Anonymous Coward says:

What frightens me..

I am a father of an autistic son. I’m afraid something will happen in his school and they will interrogate him without me present. He will say yes to almost anything when asked because he likes to nod his head. If someone wants an easy confession, it will be hard to pass on my son.
Luckily he has dependable friends to keep an eye on him.

John Cressman (profile) says:

They did EXACTLY what they were supposed to...

It’s a police state and a CYA (cover your arse) state, where it’s panic and call the authorities first, let rational though prevail later… after the authorities tell us it’s ok to use our brains.

I agree with the poster above, when it’s newsworthy that people acted WITH sanity, it’s a disturbing world.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: They did EXACTLY what they were supposed to...

There’s one remedy that comes to mind when the attitude is CYA. And that is, ironically, to sue them. They’re worried about a small chance of maybe being liable unless they do something stupid? Counter that with a 100% chance of being liable if they do the stupid thing, and maybe you remove the incentive for stupid.

Anonymous Coward says:


I’m glad I grew up in a different day and age. When I was in elementary school I asked some specific questions of teachers and based on what I learned drew up a diagram for a very simple electronic trigger for explosives. When it was done I showed it to a teacher. At the regular scheduled parent-teacher conference he told my mother about it in a positive way specifically my interest in science and cognitive ability to put things together.

If I were a young student today I can only imagine how things would go down, I can be completely sure nothing like it did, but rather somehow where I would be completely unwittingly bewildered and equated with being bad.

Anonymous Coward says:

(A) It shall be unlawful:

(1) for any person wilfully or unnecessarily (a) to interfere with or to disturb in any way or in any place the students or teachers of any school or college in this State

So if you are a student, quietly sitting in class, and a teacher calls on you, aren’t you being “disturbed”?

If you are a student sitting in class, and someone knocks on the classroom door, aren’t you being “disturbed”?

The best way to change this absurdly vague law, would be if students with cell phones would start abusing it.

Dr Evil says:

Zero Tolerance

Zero Tolerance automatically means Zero responsibility and Zero intelligence. If rules are completely cut-and-dried why are any management personnel even needed? If A then B. there is no flexibility or consideration of circumstances. no decision needs to be made. no management needs to be done. no thinking is required. no intelligence required….. waaaait …now I see…. zero tolerance environments are like kingdoms for stupid people? you disturbed me – illegal. I disturbed you – illegal .. they disturbed us – illegal .. now back to my donuts.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Zero Tolerance

Yes, Zero Tolerance and CYA mesh nicely with the ever expanding culture of proud ignorance / anti-knowledge / anti-factual all-opinions-deserve-equal-time and are to be held in the same regard as established facts, as well as the culture of fear we seem to enjoy so much and i guess missed terribly when the Cold War “ended”. (Thank god for drugs and terrorism.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Science Is Just Another Religion

Let’s correct that title:

Scientism Is Just Another Religion

Science in and of itself is belief neutral. It is a logical, systematic methodology. What beliefs you bring with you may (and usually do) dictate what you may see as the cause of the results you obtain. That is the hypotheses and subsequent theories you may develop will depend on your initial belief system, your resultant belief systems can change based on your scientific investigations.

What we quite often see today is an unquestioning adherence to a specific philosophical viewpoint. How often do people (scientists) ignore opposing viewpoints and hence any evidence that supports that opposing viewpoint? Much more often than we admit or even want to admit.

As I sit here pondering my next words, I am struck by the very clear mysticism of much of modern “scientific” thought. All of under the guise of extremely complex mathematical models and the incredible flights of fantasy by those who promote these ideas. Of course, if you propose a different model, you become branded as a “heretic”, which interestingly enough is a “religious” term. The ensuing witch hunts just highlight how far “scientific” thought has fallen.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Science Is Just Another Religion

The first principle of any scientific is questioning everything, even the most basic and fool proof stuff.

Sadly, it’s a principle that is hardly followed (like journalism and neutrality, lol). Those who follow it are the geniuses in our society.

And I don’t think it’s only a matter of intelligence, but also of attitude.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Science Is Just Another Religion

The first principle of any scientific is questioning everything, even the most basic and fool proof stuff.

This is a part of the process. It includes recognising that one’s basic understanding will always be limited and that we cannot truly know. We are just trying to get some understanding that works.

One good example of your statement is in the study of galaxies. Instead of questioning whether gravity is the sole/major influence on galactic motion, they instead postulate that dark energy and dark matter “must” exist, even though there have been no tests/experiments that have shown either of these things exist. All in the pursuit of preserving the idea that gravity is the sole influence. This is simply not applying your statement about questioning everything.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...