A 12-year-old Texas boy spent three days in a police lock-up after a school bully allegedly told teachers the boy -- a Sikh of Indian heritage -- had a bomb in his backpack.
Armaan Singh, a seventh-grader at Nichols Junior High School in Arlington, Texas, was arrested by officers in a classroom in front of his fellow students, and taken away from school in a squad car, the Dallas Morning News reported. His family said neither police nor the school informed them what had happened, and they only learned where their son was after a frantic search and a call to 911.
The case has generated hundreds of headlines after a heartfelt Facebook post from Singh's cousin, Ginee Haer, went viral, and comes only three months after another Texas student -- 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed -- was arrested at his school when a misguided teacher saw Mohamed's homemade clock project and mistook it for a bomb.
Both cases raise questions about the perception and treatment of Muslims or people perceived to be Muslims in the U.S. Singh, like many others targeted for harassment in recent years, is a Sikh.
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In Singh's incident, a classmate told the 12-year-old the battery charger he had in his backpack "looked like a bomb." The next day, during a history class, the classmate said he was going to tell their teacher Singh had a bomb.
“I thought it was a joke, so I started laughing and he started laughing,” Singh told 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.”
Police told the Dallas newspaper they realized Singh did not have a bomb in his backpack, but said they were justified in arresting the boy in front of his classmates and putting him in a juvenile lock-up for three days.
“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 Dallas Morning News. “Just because you say it’s a joke, it doesn’t get you out of trouble.”
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Haer's Dec. 15 Facebook post -- which garnered more than 23,000 likes and more than 10,000 shares in less than three days -- raged against police and school officials for putting her cousin through the trauma of the arrest and lock-up. Singh has heart problems, Haer said, and has had three open heart surgeries. His family was worried about the anxiety of the ordeal causing more problems as Singh spent the weekend and Monday in the juvenile jail.
"It hurts my heart and boils my blood that there are people stupid enough out there not only accusing us, but our innocent children of being terrorists!" Haer wrote on Facebook. "It sickens me even more that there are people even more stupid out there, taking their word for it. My cousin is a minor and was arrested without any evidence or guardian present!"
Haer described Singh as a "goofball" who loves his family, enjoys playing video games, and had a difficult time adjusting to school when his family moved to the Arlington area because he can't play sports or participate in strenuous extracurricular activities because of his heart condition.
Officials in the school district were unrepentant when contacted by media.
“The [Arlington Independent School District] 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 wrote in a statement issued to local press.
Singh was charged with making a terroristic threat, a charge that could be a misdemeanor or felony depending on the grade, according to Texas penal law. It's unclear if Singh was charged with the misdemeanor or felony version. His family told the Dallas Morning News that they worry the charge could endanger Singh's dream of becoming a mechanical engineer.
Singh's older brother, Aksh, told the newspaper the family would understand if Singh genuinely made a threat, but blasted police and the school for their actions when they knew the report was the result of another student's tasteless joke.
“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 said.