Agent Tierney says he’ll never forget the anxiety and concern he felt when a 16-year-old Haddad began driving around town on his own.

HOUGHTON, MI—Saying he could hardly believe how much the young man had changed over the past eight years, a visibly sentimental FBI counterterrorism agent fondly recalled Tuesday watching 20-year-old Muslim-American Omar Haddad grow up.

While speaking with reporters, Special Agent David Tierney repeatedly paused to marvel at how quickly the time had slipped by, striking a bittersweet tone as he described what it had been like to see the young Muslim boy mature and come into his own as he studied for his classes, made friends, played on the school baseball team, and prayed at his local mosque every Friday.

“Sometimes it feels like it was just yesterday that I was watching little 12-year-old Omar get on the bus and head off to seventh grade, but I guess time really flies,” said the FBI agent, expressing amazement at how a middle-schooler who had seemed so shy when talking to girls on the phone could become so confident and self-assured in his conversations as an adult. “God, I remember seeing him on his first date, just this scrawny teenager at a 7 p.m. showing of Captain America trying to work up the courage to put his arm around a girl. Look at him now—handsome, popular, and getting straights A’s in his junior year at Michigan Tech.”

“And to think we’ve been right there with him every step of the way,” Tierney added.

As he looked through an immense collection of photos and videos from the boy’s youth, the agent reported that watching Haddad grow up had been stressful at times, particularly during a brief period in 2011 when it appeared the young man was falling in with a bad crowd. But just a year or two later, he said, Haddad’s priorities had changed significantly, and Tierney was soon traveling around the country as the boy toured prospective colleges.

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“I’ll never forget how nervous he was on his first day of high school—so were we, of course,” said Tierney, recalling in detail the apprehension on Haddad’s face and the brand-new Jansport backpack slung over his shoulder as he walked into school that day. “But his teenage years went pretty smoothly, all things considered. Sure, sometimes he would stay out a little late, which would cause us to worry, but he never went anywhere he wasn’t supposed to. Omar was the kind of kid who would always finish his homework before he would hang out with friends or goof around online.”

“I suppose he would’ve been pretty mad if he’d found out we were reading his texts and snooping around his favorite websites,” he continued. “But you need to know what they’re getting up to, especially at that age. It’s just your job.”

After letting out a sigh and asking himself where the time had gone, Tierney confirmed he would continue to keep an eye on the young man as he made his way in the adult world. The 13-year veteran of the FBI’s counterterrorism division added that, whatever Haddad chose to do with his life, he was sure it would be a success.

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“I just wish I could say as much for his younger brother,” Tierney said. “We’re definitely going to have to get a lot more involved with that kid.”