It’s deja vu in the Dallas suburbs.
Three months after “clock boy” Ahmed Mohamed’s homemade gadget was mistaken for an explosive device, another minority student in a neighboring community has been arrested for allegedly making a bomb threat at school.
The 12-year-old Sikh boy, Armaan Singh, was arrested on Dec. 11 for allegedly threatening to blow up Nichols Junior High School in Arlington, Texas. He was handcuffed, held in a juvenile detention center for three days and suspended from school.
But Singh says he is innocent, and that it was another student who caused the whole mess by mistaking his backpack for a bomb.
“I thought it was just a joke, so I started laughing and then he started laughing too,” Singh said of the accusation during an interview with the Dallas Morning News. “The next thing you know, I’m reading with my friend and police come in, grab me and take me outside.”
Singh’s family has leveled accusations of “discrimination” against the school and police, and demanded the charges be dropped.
“It hurts my heart and boils my blood that there are people stupid enough out there [to be] not only accusing us, but our innocent children of being terrorists!” wrote Singh’s cousin, Ginee Haer, in a Facebook post that quickly went viral this week. “It sickens me even more that there are people even more stupid out there, taking their word for it.”
Police and school officials, however, insist that they acted appropriately in the face of a bomb threat – one of a string of such threats in the Dallas area in recent months.
Arlington Police say that Singh confessed to telling a fellow student that he had a bomb in his backpack.
“People have got to learn they cannot make these types of threats, which cause alarm, which cause evacuations,” police spokesman Lt. Christopher Cook told the Morning News. “Just because you say it’s a joke, it doesn’t get you out of trouble.”
As in the Ahmed Mohamed case in September, the school district says that it’s prevented from discussing the case in detail by student confidentiality rules. But the Arlington Independent School District defended its decision to call in the cops.
“The AISD will do what is necessary to maintain the safety and security of its students, and we are confident that our actions are appropriate in all respects,” a district spokeswoman told the Morning News.
There are a number of parallels between Singh’s arrest and those surrounding Ahmed Mohamed in Irving earlier this year. The two cities near Dallas neighbor one another, and the circumstances of their arrests are similar.
Mohamed, 14, is Muslim. Singh is Sikh, a separate religion common in his parents’ native India. Because of their turbans and beards, however, Sikh men are sometimes confused for Muslims. In the United States, Sikhs have come under increasing attack amid a rise in xenophobia and anti-Islam violence.
Like Mohamed, Singh had recently started class at a new school after his family moved from San Antonio to Arlington in August.
And while Mohamed is an aspiring scientist – he was arrested in a NASA t-shirt – Singh also dreams of a similar career as a mechanical engineer.
The trouble began Dec. 10. Singh had just finished a history test when he opened his backpack to put away his things. Singh’s backpack is a “power bag,” he told the Morning News, which means it has a battery at the front to charge a cell phone.
“The student in front of me, who is the one who made the accusation. . . said that [the backpack] looked like a bomb,” Singh said. “Then Friday. . . I came back to that period and he was in front of me again and he said ‘I’m going to go tell on you. I’m going to go tell on you and say all this stuff about you. I’m going to go tell on you.’
Singh said he laughed at the other student, who did the same. But the other student – who Singh’s cousin Haer called “a bully” – reported the incident to their teacher.
“The police came in and they grabbed me and they just took me outside in the hallway, made me wait, and then our class was getting out, then they took me to the police officer’s office,” he told the Morning News. “Then they talked to me and asked me questions. Then they took me to the department of the police, then the juvenile center.
“I was really scared, really nervous,” he added.
His cousin, Haer, put it more forcefully.
“On Friday, December 11th, 2015, my cousin attended school, like any other normal 12 year old child,” she wrote in her Facebook post. “A bully in class thought it would be funny to accuse him of having a bomb, and so the principal, without any questioning, interrogation, or notification to his parents, called the police.”
Singh spent nearly three days in the juvenile detention center. His family, meanwhile, frantically tried to figure out what was going on.
His parents told the Morning News that they were never notified by police that their 12-year-old boy had been arrested. Instead, they began to get worried when Armaan never came home from school last Friday.
Adding to their concern was the fact that Singh has a heart condition that has already required three surgeries.
When Singh didn’t come home, his parents searched their apartment complex and then went to his school. Finally, they called the principal, who told them that Singh had been arrested but said she didn’t know where he had been taken, according to Armaan’s older brother, Aksh Singh.
The family had to resort to calling 911 to learn that Armaan had been taken to the juvenile detention center, they told the Morning News.
An Arlington school district spokeswoman told the newspaper that officials had tried to reach the family on Friday.
Singh has been charged with “making a terroristic threat,” according to the Morning News. It’s unclear, however, if he is being charged as an adult or a child, or if the charge is a misdemeanor or a felony. He must wear an ankle monitor and remain under house arrest until his next court date, the newspaper reported.
Whatever the charge, Singh’s relatives have demanded that authorities drop it. The family has also criticized school officials for handing Singh a three-day suspension.
“Instead of hearing us out, they suspended him,” said Aksh, 17. “I think it’s outrageous.”
Aksh accused the school of “discrimination” for punishing Armaan while other kids were not in trouble.
“My little brother Armaan Singh, 12 years of age, a loved kid by many was taken from school to Kimbo Juvenile center because he AND other students were joking about bomb threats,” he wrote on Facebook the night of the arrest. “I know we live in a time where such an accusation is serious, but this is outrageous and I demand a justified reason for why a 12-year-old INDIAN boy was taken into police custody and sent to a jail.”
Aksh, who said he was writing on behalf of his parents because they did not “write good English,” said the ordeal had caused his family “grief.” He also questioned why Armaan’s teacher called the cops instead of simply sending the 12-year-old to the principal’s office.
Armaan is “scared of the dark,” he continued. If his brother was “opening his backpack and saying he had a bomb to other kids around him [then it was] probably because they were talking about ISIS as well, and they were able to go home safely to their families.”
Arlington Police rejected the idea that Singh was singled out, however.
“The suspect never told us anything about being bullied,” Cook, the police spokesman, told the Morning News. “The ethnicity or race does not figure into our investigation in any way. There is nothing in the report that would indicate that the suspect was set up.”
School officials point out that the Dallas area has been stung be a series of disruptive bomb threats in recent months. In September, MacArthur High School in Irving was evacuated after an anonymous bomb threat. And on Wednesday, Dallas Independent School District received another threat, but officials determined it was “non-credible.”
“Someone is trying to scare Dallas,” Mayor Mike Rawlings said in a news conference, according to NBC DFW. “And that’s not going to work.”
“We’re very concerned about the proliferation of these threats over the few months,” Cook told the Morning News. “This is serious stuff in the day and age that we live in. We have to respond to these emerging threats.”
The Singhs, however, say Armaan wasn’t trying to threaten or scare anyone. His parents are both Indian immigrants. His mother, Gurdeep Kaur, works near the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, preparing in-flight meals. His father is training to become a semi-truck driver. The couple, their three kids and Singh’s grandparents share a three-bedroom condo, according to the Morning News.
“We’re those kind of people who, if it was his fault, would let him stay in there so he could learn his lesson,” Aksh told the newspaper.
Like the Mohameds, who complained that Ahmed’s arrest stemmed from Islamophobia and later announced they were moving to Qatar, the Singh family is suddenly reconsidering its place – in Arlington, at least.
“It was my decision to move here,” Gurdeep Kaur told the Morning News, “but now I’m thinking why we came here.”