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Woman Arrested Under Similar Circumstances as Ahmed Mohamed Has Advice for Teen

Kiera Wilmot(LAKELAND, Fla.) — A Florida teen who was arrested in 2013 under remarkably similar circumstances as Ahmed Mohamed — who was cuffed when Texas school officials mistook a homemade clock for a bomb — has some advice for him.

“When I read the story about Ahmed…I said ‘Oh my gosh, how could this happen again?'” Kiera Wilmot of Lakeland, Florida told ABC News Thursday. “[In my case] sometimes I think it was racial profiling and sometimes I think it was just ignorance.”

Ahmed’s case has sparked an uproar and he was invited by President Obama to the White House. The school says the community is standing behind the actions of its teachers and officials.

Wilmot, now 19, said that in April 2013 she brought a science project to school in Bartow, Florida — a makeshift volcano that she was very excited to show her teacher.

“He said he needed to approve it first, so I brought it in thinking he literally needed to see it in person,” she said.

She said the project was “more advanced” than a “baking soda and vinegar volcano” and her classmates asked to see how it worked.

Wilmot said she activated the volcano outside the cafeteria of Bartow High School that morning, when the lid popped off and the bottom of the device began to smoke. No students were hurt and no school property was damaged.

Soon after, the then 16-year-old was approached by the dean of students.

“He said ‘What’s going on?'” Wilmot recalled. I said ‘Oh, I was just showing my science project to my friends.”

Wilmot said when her science teacher was approached by a school official, he said there were no science experiments assigned to his class that week.

Wilmot was then brought to the juvenile detention center where she was arrested on bomb charges.

“I cried as soon as they told me,” she said. “As they were fingerprinting and taking mugshots I said ‘Oh my gosh, I’m an actual criminal. I know I didn’t do anything wrong but I felt like I had to believe I did something wrong.”

Wilmot, now an engineering student at Florida Polytechnic, said as a result of the ordeal she was suspended for 10 days.

“This incident involved a former student,” Polk County Public Schools said in a statement. “We respect her right to privacy and wish her the best in her future. This incident did not change our school district’s code of conduct. We have no further comment.”

But on May 22, exactly one month after the incident, charges were dropped.

Like Ahmed, Wilmot’s story captured the attention of national media and landed her a scholarship to Space Camp.

Wilmot said Ahmed’s arrest brought back the fear she felt that on the day she was handcuffed and booked on bomb charges.

“I thought ‘He’s only in ninth grade,'” she said. “He has to go back to that school and go through four more years of people asking him ‘Hey, aren’t you the kid who made the bomb?'”

A spokesperson from MacArthur High School where Ahmed attends said they are willing to …read more […]

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Amid Federal Air Marshal Scandal, Lawmakers Debating Program’s Merits

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Fresh off the heels of another Federal Air Marshal Service scandal — this one involving several officers who allegedly hired prostitutes and used government-issued phones to videotape sexual acts — lawmakers are debating whether the marshal service merits its $800 million-plus budget.

Federal air marshals are “one of the least-needed organizations in our entire federal government,” Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn., said at a Congressional hearing Thursday, citing a USA Today report alleging marshals are “committing more crimes than they stop.”

The scandal-plagued service is struggling to mend its reputation following a spate of salacious incidents.

This week, it was revealed that several marshals had their security clearances suspended amid allegations that they posed as pornography producers, hired at least one prostitute, and recorded sex acts on their government-issued phones.

“These individuals are a disgrace to the profession,” FAMS Director Roderick Allison said at the hearing Thursday. “I’m confident they will be shown the door.”

Two of the marshals involved in the scandal were placed on indefinite suspension without pay, and a third resigned, Allison said.

Meanwhile, the service is still recovering from an incident earlier this year in which a specialist rearranged flight schedules in order to arrange “sexual trysts,” and another in which the former director, who later resigned, was investigated for his role in an alleged plot to obtain guns for agents’ personal use.

After conduct he saw while overseas in the past, Allison instituted a new random drug and alcohol testing program.

TSA employees are trained to show up at international destinations and “if you look like you are drunk or smell like you are drunk, you are going to get tested,” Allison said.

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Man Tries to Steal Learjet While Armed with Stick, Texas Police Say

iStock/Thinkstock(WACO, Texas) — A man armed with a stick tried to steal a Learjet in Texas this afternoon after careening through a security gate with a car, police said.

The man, who has not been identified, has a history of mental illness and was known to the Waco Police Department, according to a statement the department issued after the incident.

The suspect crashed through a gate at the Waco Regional Airport using a car and was spotted by Texas Aero employees as he was reportedly “attempting to remove the tire chocks and get into the jet.”

Waco Airport Director Joel Martinez told ABC News that several employees told the man he wasn’t allowed to be there, but his only comment was “I’m nobody, don’t worry about it.”

An off-duty police officer was flagged down by the employees who then confronted the man. The Waco police said that the jet belonged to a local business but did not identify the company.

The man was “tazed several times with no affect,” the police department reported, and he was physically restrained by officers and airport employees who were able to subdue him, and he has since been taken to a nearby hospital for a mental evaluation.

He is expected to face criminal trespass, attempted theft, criminal mischief and resisting arrest charges once cleared by his evaluation, the Waco police said in their statement.

His name will be released once he is charged, though he may face additional federal charges.

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The Woman Behind the #IStandWithAhmed Hashtag Supporting Ahmed Mohamed

Amneh Jafari(IRVING, Texas) — Amneh Jafari, a 23-year-old college student, said she had no idea the impact she would have on Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Muslim student who was arrested after the clock he made as a science project was mistaken for a bomb.

Ahmed, a freshman at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, was put in handcuffs Monday when his homemade digital clock was mistaken for a bomb by school officials. After a police investigation, Ahmed was released and no charges were brought against him.

But after seeing the story on local news, Jafari, also Muslim, told ABC News Thursday she felt the need to show solidarity with Ahmed, who she believes was discriminated against, though the Irving Police Department’s chief said on Wednesday that if the student in the situation had been white, officials’ “reaction would have been the same either way.”

Jafari wrote the following tweet below, being the first to start the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed.

The hashtag took off on social media, and has been tweeted over 600,000 times as of this afternoon, according to Twitter analytic service Topsy.

“I never expected it to be like this, to get this big,” said Jafari, a psychology student at the University of Texas in Arlington. “When Obama and Mark Zuckerberg put out the statement giving him these amazing opportunities, I didn’t know if this was real or a dream.”

The 23-year-old explained that the hashtag was not just for Ahmed but for “people of all colors, of all races, the youth and the other people that are discriminated.”

“They are not alone,” Jafari said. “We can go through it together and fight hatred and spread love and peace.”

Though she hasn’t met Ahmed in person yet, Jafari said she got to speak with him over the phone.

“He thanked me for starting the movement and I kept thanking him, telling him that he inspires me,” she said. “Even though I started the hashtag, he’s inspired me in so many ways. I just hope he sees the positivity in this, how bright his future is and the amazing changes he’s made in this world.”

Ahmed has been offered invitations and career opportunities from dozens of high-profile leaders and celebrities, including an invite to the White House during its “Astronomy Night,” an invite to discuss a Twitter and Reddit internship, and an invite to a special tour of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — Ahmed’s dream school.

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Bowe Bergdahl Appears at Hearing About Possible Trial on Desertion Charges

U.S. Army via Getty Images(SAN ANTONIO, Texas) — Capt. John Billings, the platoon leader who was Bowe Bergdahl’s commanding officer before Bergdahl left his post in Afghanistan, testified on Thursday, saying how soldiers spent weeks searching for him.

The testimony comes as Bergdahl faces a hearing to determine whether he should face a military tribunal over his charges of desertion over the 2009 incident, which military officials said led to his being captured by the Taliban. Bergdahl has been charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. Should the case be referred to a court martial, he could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Maj. Margaret Kurz, who was leading the prosecution, said that Bergdahl showed deliberate disregard for his unit by leaving his post.

“He was intending to draw attention to himself,” she said during the hearing Thursday at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas.

Bergdahl, who was returned to the U.S. as part of a prisoner exchange with the Taliban in 2014, was present in court but said little.

He looked down for much of the first portion of the hearing, responding “Yes, sir” when he was asked a question during his defense’s opening statement.

The first witness who was called after both sides made their opening statements was Capt. John Billings, Bergdahl’s platoon leader. He said that his first impression of Bergdahl was that he was a great soldier.

He then described how intense the searches were for Bergdahl, and how they increased from one per day to several each day.

“I was exhausted mentally and physically,” Billings said.

Billings told his soldiers they must “exhaust all means and do everything we have to do to find Bergdahl.”

“This is absolutely the most important thing they will ever have to do in their life,” Billings said. “I was defeated. For the first time in my career I had lost a soldier.”

“I felt almost as if I had failed my men,” he added.

The prosecution indicated the disappearance was premeditated, noting that Bergdahl had emailed his girlfriend, saying “be prepared and expect something.”

The hearing is ongoing.

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Controversial Guardrails Face Second Major Test

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A new series of crash tests are scheduled to start Thursday for a controversial, widely-used guardrail system, as the state of Virginia takes on both the guardrail maker and federal safety officials who have insisted further testing is unnecessary.

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) ordered the new crash tests after state officials were unconvinced that tests conducted by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) late last year and early this year proved that the guardrail system was safe.

The guardrail maker, Trinity Industries, has gone on the offensive against Virginia, buying ad space at major news outlet websites calling into question both the state officials’ motivations and the tests themselves. In a letter to VDOT officials earlier this month, Trinity demanded to be let in on the details of the planned crash tests.

“In response to the various other demands, assertions and things said in your letter, I need to make the point that Virginia is a sovereign entity, not subject to direction from Trinity,” Richard McGrath, senior assistant attorney general in Virginia, said in response last week.

Later, Virginia and Trinity exchanged another round of contentious letters, this time about who from Trinity would be allowed into the VDOT’s new tests.

The guardrail system, known as the ET-Plus, was the focus of an ABC News investigation that examined claims by accident victims and critics who said the guardrail was quietly altered more than a decade ago to save the company money — and that the alteration made the guardrail more dangerous for American motorists.

Accident victims blamed the modified guardrail for gruesome dismemberments and deaths.

Last October, Trinity was found by a Texas court to have committed fraud for switching out one guardrail design for the other without telling state or federal officials until years later, and in June was ordered to pay more than $600 million in damages and penalties — a decision Trinity has said it plans to appeal.

Trinity has maintained that the guardrails are safe and pointed to the FHWA crash tests late last year and earlier this year, which gave the guardrails a passing grade — though the results of one of the eight tests was called into question after critics say it looked to them like a “clear failure.”

Last week the FHWA released the findings of a joint task force that had examined real-world car crashes involving the ET-Plus as well as several other guardrail models. The task force, made up of FHWA officials, state officials and experts, concluded that while all guardrails examined had “performance limitations” when it came to certain crashes, the ET-Plus was not singled out as uniquely dangerous.

The task force said further testing of the guardrails was unnecessary.

That finding prompted a new series of questions about the relationship between FHWA officials and Trinity — one that Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., once called “too cozy.”

“More than three and a half years since states first raised concerns about ET-Plus guardrails and nearly one year since a jury reached a bombshell half-billion-dollar verdict against the ET-Plus’s manufacturer …read more […]

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Ahmed Mohamed’s High School Says He’s Welcome Back

Ben Torres/Getty Images(IRVING, Texas) — The Texas high school where student Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for a clock invention that a teacher mistook for a bomb said they will welcome him back as a student, should he change his mind about changing schools.

“Only thing we did hear from the press conference was that he intended to transfer,” MacArthur High School’s director of communications Lesley Weaver told ABC News on Thursday. “He’s certainly welcome [back].”

“We’re confident that we can continue to provide him with an excellent education, but we want him to feel safe along with the other 2,800-plus students on campus,” Weaver added.

Ahmed, a freshman at MacArthur High School in Irving, Texas, was taken into police custody Monday when his homemade digital clock was mistaken for a bomb by school officials.

Since the incident, the 14-year-old has become a media sensation, capturing the attention of news organizations worldwide, as well as President Obama and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

“I think there’s frustration from the students,” Weaver said. “They love their school, they love their community and not really appreciating the national spotlight that’s been cast upon them.”

Despite the negative attention on the school, Weaver said both the city of Irving and parents of students are standing behind the school and the actions of its officials.

“Our community seems to be standing behind us supporting us,” she said. “We are not hearing the complaints or crazy messages here in Irving.”

Ahmed spoke about his arrest Thursday on ABC News’ Good Morning America, describing how his English teacher and police reacted to his clock, which is still in police custody.

“She saw a clock that, in her opinion, looked like a threat to her,” Ahmed said of the unnamed teacher. “It felt really weird getting arrested because I never thought I’d ever get arrested.”

“I repeatedly told them, ‘It’s a clock,’ but no matter how much I told them, I guess that’s not a bold enough answer to them,” he said of police. “I want it [the clock] back, with my humility.”

As for the teacher’s actions, Weaver said the school is supporting her decision to report the clock as a suspicious object.

“We do stand behind what the teacher did,” she said. “We believe she was acting in the best interest for the safety of all 2,800 students at MacArthur High School. She followed the correct procedures.”

“What the teacher was faced with was a beeping device, in a suitcase, in her class with wires and a timer,” Weaver added. “We are proud that that teacher reported something that she thought was suspicious and that was the device, not the student.”

During Wednesday’s news conference with Ahmed and his family, the teen told reporters that he has no desire to meet with MacArthur High School to further discuss the ordeal and has already made his decision to transfer to another school.

He added that he was suspended for the clock for three days — a punishment that Weaver said had not been lifted, even though police concluded that Ahmed’s invention was not …read more […]

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Pennsylvania Priest Makes LEGO Vatican Ahead of Pope’s US Visit

VINCENZO PINTO/AFP/Getty Images(PHILADELPHIA) — Just in time to commemorate the papal visit to the United States, a Pennsylvania priest has painstakingly recreated Pope Francis’ formal residence, The Vatican, in LEGOs.

ABC News affiliate WNEP-TV reports it took a half million of the interlocking plastic bricks for Fr. Bob Simon to recreate the historic complex; it will be displayed at Franklin Institute in Philadelphia — one of Francis’ stops on his U.S. tour — until Feb. 15.

“As long as I can remember, I loved LEGOs, and I also wanted to be a priest, so it was a natural thing to build churches,” Fr. Simon said.

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NASA Scientist Gets Surprise Thank-You for Giving Back to Kids in Alabama Community

ABC News(HUNTSVILLE, Ala.) — Trent Griffin’s friends and family describe him as compassionate and loving, and when ABC’s Good Morning America asked viewers to nominate someone who’d gone above and beyond to help others, his sister, Toni Eldridge, submitted his name.

Griffin, a 48-year-old NASA physicist, has distinguished himself as part of a team that’s developing hardware for long-term use in space. On his own time, he’s also distinguished himself by giving back to his Huntsville, Alabama, community, and Thursday he got a big public thank-you.

Last summer in his neighborhood, Griffin saw a little boy riding a bicycle with no front tire. He decided to go to a thrift store and fix the bike for the boy, his sister, Nicole Griffin Fields, said.

Word of Griffin’s good deed got out and more children started coming to him to have their own bikes repaired.

“It’s not just about the bikes,” said Nicole Griffin Fields. “He makes them sign contracts that require them to have good behavior, to maintain their good grades and to obey their parents.”

Taniya Hardin is one of the children Griffin has helped.

“I’m 9 years old and Mr. Trent gave me a bike … I feel happy because he gave me a bike that I love,” she said.

Griffin Fields grew emotional as she described how her brother’s efforts helped others.

“He’s like our hero,” she said. “He never had kids of his own, but he takes all the kids in the neighborhood and makes them feel special.”

Good Morning America‘s TJ Holmes paid Griffin a surprise visit Thursday at his house. Griffin was blindfolded and put into a limousine that whisked him to the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. There, he learned he was live on GMA, and got to see the revelation of an aerial art installation that was created for him with the help of 1,000 of his friends.

The art was based on a drawing of a bicycle by one of the children helped by Griffin.

Another surprise came when astronaut Scott Kelly appeared live from the International Space Station with a special shout-out for Griffin.

Kelly, who is six months into a one-year stint aboard the ISS, also told Griffin that he would be receiving 50 brand new bicycles from Mongoose and Schwinn that he could donate.

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What Would You Ask Pope Francis? Catholic School Students Get to Find Out

Mariam Khan/ABC News(WASHINGTON) — When Pope Francis arrives at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C. next week, he’ll be greeted by President Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and also some lucky students from Sacred Heart, a catholic school in the nation’s capital.

“It’s a once in a lifetime chance to meet a worldwide leader who can inspire you all around the world,” says Dennis Lugo, a 12-year-old student who attends the school.

For Dulce Romero, a 13-year-old eighth grader, her connection to the pope is deep because of their shared Latino roots.

“It’s an honor to be able to meet somebody so important, and that has such a great influence in our world,” she said. “He is the first pope in a while to speak Spanish.”

When asked what they would say to the pope if they had a chance to speak to His Holiness, another student, Jessica Sanchez, was at a loss for words.

“I would not say anything, I would just like give him a hug,” she said.

Francis’ highly anticipated tour of the United States includes an address to Congress, a visit to the White House, and also stops at the National Mall and St. Matthews Cathedral.

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