The arrest of 17–year-old Kiera Wilmot and her expulsion from Bartow High School in Florida on bomb-making charges when her science project went horribly wrong, could have been avoided if authorities had asked a few simple questions, according to the girl's mother.
“My daughter is not a bad kid,” said Marie Wilmot, Kiera’s mother. She said her daughter wouldn’t have a felony arrest record if the authorities had asked what the 17-year-old was doing and why.
The morning of April 22, seventeen-year old Kiera, was just another student bringing her science project idea to her teacher for approval. Kiera brought aluminum foil, toilet bowl cleaner and an eight ounce plastic water bottle to demonstrate the action of a volcano.
But when she tried to assemble the ingredients outside the school building, just to see if it would work, the mixture exploded.
In a statement to the AFRO, Wilmot’s mother said, “the toilet bowl cleaner was measured and placed in a bottle prior to Kiera leaving home.” She said her daughter was toting “an eight-ounce empty plastic water bottle, a fingernail size piece of aluminum foil and two ounces of toilet bowl cleaner.”
Kiera told the AFRO, “ I didn’t think it was a big deal to show my friends my project before showing the teacher.”
Before presenting her project to Michael Claypool, her science teacher, Kiera demonstrated it to her classmates.
“I didn’t know what would happen. The top of the bottle popped off and smoke came out,” said Kiera
According to the teenager, each school day at Bartow High School in central Florida starts with the principal and assistant principal walking around the campus and making sure students are where they are supposed to be.
On that morning of April 22, school officials heard a firecracker-like noise and spotted Kiera with a damaged bottle amid smoke.
“She was accused of making a bomb on school property and was expelled,” said Kiera’s mother.
School officials reported the incident to school security officers who in turn notified Bartow police. Kiera was handcuffed and arrested in front of her classmates and hauled off to jail.
She was charged with possession of a weapon on campus and discharging a destructive device.
“I never thought anything like this would happen,” said Kiera.
The charges were dropped by the Polk County state’s attorney when the student and her mother agreed to a “diversion of prosecution.”
The prosecutor issued a statement. “Based upon the facts and circumstances of the case, the lack of criminal history of the child involved, and the action taken by the Polk County School Board, the State Attorney's Office extended an offer of diversion of prosecution to the child. The child and her guardian signed the agreement to successfully complete the Department of Juvenile Justice Diversion Program.”
But a diversion program, in which the accused agrees to several hours of community service in exchange for dropping the charges, is not enough, according to Larry D. Hardaway, an attorney who is representing the family.
As a result of her unintentional science project mishap, Kiera now has a felony arrest record, Hardaway said.
Hardaway told the AFRO, “our next important task is to eliminate the harm to Kiera's future by the records created from her arrest by the Bartow Police Department.”
He added, “We are keenly aware of the harm these records can cause, and we are encouraged by the positive response we have received from the State Attorney's Office.”
But the negative experience was not without a positive spark. The aspiring scientist received a full scholarship to Space Camp, the U.S. Space Academy and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala. package of space technology seminars for anyone interested in life beyond Earth. The free ride for a coveted spot in the Space Camp program was given to Kiera by Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer.
Hickam told the AFRO,” I couldn't do anything about her being expelled or the charges levied against her. I thought I could at least give her a gift, the gift of a stress-free, educational week at the U.S. Space Academy.”
Hickam, said he heard of Kiera’s situation on the internet when some of his fans noticed that her story closely resembled a past experience he encountered while in high school. Hickam said he was considered an “amateur rocket-builder” and a mishap lead to him being accused of starting a forest fire.
“My science teacher took up for me and convinced everybody I was innocent,” said Hickam.
The U.S. Space Academy and Rocket Center is where space dreams are nurtured. It is a program that allows students to gain insight on math, science and technology at a level that will give them college credit for completing the five-day course, which cost $979.
“During the five-night program, trainees will get hands-on training, as well as learn about the mental, emotional and physical demands astronauts, engineers and technologists must face,” according to the Space Camp description of the Advanced Space Academy, the program the expelled Bartow student will participate in.
Kiera will receive “one hour of freshman-level general science credit” from the University of Alabama at Huntsville.
Kiera is completing the remainder of the school year at an alternative school, Bill Duncan Opportunity Center, the school system’s place for troubled kids. All students there had bumpy experiences at mainstream schools.
Kiera’s mother said her daughter “will be able to attend Bartow High School for the new school year that begins in August, but the hope is that people will forget about this incident over the summer.”
“The school just missed the mark, and they ran with it,” said Wilmot. The family is now faced with concerns and questions whether or not this incident will complicate Kiera’s life. Will a felony arrest interfere with getting a passport, getting on a commercial flights, or even applying for a job or college admission, her mother wonders.
“We won’t know what will happen when she goes to do these things, until we cross that bridge,” said Wilmot.
This incident has emotionally affected Kiera. She said, “when I return to Bartow I want people to accept me.
“The other night I had a dream that I returned back to school and children were yelling at me over what happened,” she said.