A teen whose image was initially linked to the Boston Marathon bombings said the experience of being falsely labeled a suspect "changed everything about me."
Salah Barhoum, now 19, and a student at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts, revealed how he dealt with the aftermath of seeing his face and that of a friend on the front page of the New York Post under the headline "Bag Men." Another headline inside the paper said "Men in Sights."
“I, myself, was accused by the New York Post," Barhoum said, speaking at the university. "It says 'Bag Men': Feds seek these two.'"
U.S. & World
Barhoum, who was 16-years-old and a high school sophomore at the time, moved to the U.S. from Morocco just a few years earlier. He said he met with a mix of racism, stereotyping and hatred because of the experience.
"How did that happen? Because they jumped to conclusions. I'm not going to lie, that affected my whole life," he said. "That changed everything about me."
His first time at the marathon, he was one of the thousands of spectators at the finish line. He left about 20 minutes before the bombs went off.
As investigators searched for clues, the New York Post published the photo of Barhoum and his friend — who has moved back to Morocco — with a headline linking the two to the bombings.
Authorities released images of the Tsarnaev brothers — the real culprits — but the damage was done. He said he received threats and was afraid to leave his house. Barhoum said he also struggled with depression and saw his grades drop substantially.
"I learned that life goes on. I have learned that life is full of obstacles and struggles and so many things that can break you down and leave you down for the rest of your life," he said. "But it's all on you. If you want to be successful, then face your fears, face your obstacles."
Barhoum, who reached a settlement after suing the New York Post, decided to get past the anger and bitterness, a message he's sharing with his classmates.
"Use your problems to be something that motivates you to be successful in the future," he said.