The effects of unchecked criminalization: Teen charged with felony for science experiment

Kiera Wilmont, the young woman of color unfairly criminalized, smiles and does NOT look menacing. When we talk about the criminalization of communities and people of color, especially African Americans and Latinos in America, we often talk about the criminal justice system in America that disproportionately targets those communities.Schools are often the major accomplices in making this system run with the school to prison pipeline. Nothing exemplifies this more than what is happening to 16 year old Kiera Wilmot in Florida. According to the Miami New Times,

 “7 a.m. on Monday, the 16 year-old mixed some common household chemicals in a small 8 oz water bottle on the grounds of Bartow High School in Bartow, Florida. The reaction caused a small explosion that caused the top to pop up and produced some smoke. No one was hurt and no damage was caused.

…Wilmot told police that she was merely conducting a science experiment. Though her teachers knew nothing of the specific project, her principal seems to agree.

‘She made a bad choice. Honestly, I don’t think she meant to ever hurt anyone,’ principal Ron Pritchard told the station. ‘She wanted to see what would happen [when the chemicals mixed] and was shocked by what it did. Her mother is shocked, too.’

This sounds like a harmless instance of experimentation gone wrong. No harm, no foul right? Even the principle thinks it was simply a poor decision. A week of detention, maybe even suspension, was in order no doubt. So why did it go down like this?

“After the explosion Wilmot was taken into custody by a school resources officer and charged with possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device. She will be tried as an adult.

She was then taken to a juvenile assessment center. She was also expelled from school and will be forced to complete her diploma through an expulsion program.”

The school released the following statement:

“Anytime a student makes a bad choice it is disappointing to us. Unfortunately, the incident that occurred at Bartow High School yesterday was a serious breach of conduct. In order to maintain a safe and orderly learning environment, we simply must uphold our code of conduct rules. We urge our parents to join us in conveying the message that there are consequences to actions. We will not compromise the safety and security of our students and staff.”

I call bullshit. This is not about the “safety and security” of students and staff at Bartow High School. This was about setting an example, at the expense of Wilmot, and sending a message that even (mis)perceived threats will be dealt with swiftly and harshly. The unfortunate truth is that in America, those perceptions are heavily tied up in notions of race, class, and gender.

Those perceptions may have helped them come to the conclusion that Wilmot’s concoction was indeed a weapon. The code of conduct clearly states that “intention” is a factor in whether or not there has been a breach of that specific rule. But somehow the principal managed to defend the girls intentions but still expel and have her arrested.

Is the perceived threat to the safety of her classmates and teachers also the reason why Wilmot is being tried as an adult with a felony? A student with good grades and no behavioral problems to speak of should be followed with a felony because she was curious about a chemical reaction? She has been ushered into the criminal justice system with this decision. Access to employment, education, housing, etc. will all be limited to Wilmot with a felony on her record.

As a graduate of a Chicago Public School I am very familiar with teachers not being interested in nurturing the minds of students. Instead, they create a mindless generation that simply does what they’re told, no questions asked, all in the interest of maintaining an orderly “classroom”. Sending students to prisons is the solution for those who can’t be “controlled”. I have witnessed the policing that happens when school staff and administration fears its students, of color. Let me be clear, zero tolerance policies are not about keeping schools safe. They exist to keep school administrators from being held accountable for the environment they create in their institution and making contextual judgement calls.

I pray that all works out for Kiera Wilmot.

Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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  • Ray

    Thank you for this post. Unfortunately, outrageous decisions like this seem common in our school system. I place where critical thinking and knowledge is supposed to be taught seems devoid of common sense many times. I have seen too many reports of children being suspended/expelled for drawing pictures of guns, wearing a T-Shirt with a picture of a gun or even having food in the shape of a gun! While there are many great teachers working hard to teach their students the important information they need, hysteria and overreaction seems to be the norm for too many schools. Something needs to be done before there are even more lives set back.

    I have read Feministing for a long time, but I have held off posting until this blog entry. I hope Kiera and others like her are able to overcome these unfair setbacks.

    • Russell Grindle

      I accidentally reported this comment. Actually I just wanted to add to it.

      It is important to note that the decision to criminalize Kiera Wilmot was done not by an educator but by the campus resource officer – a campus cop where I teach in California. Is the same euphemism used in Florida? This is a teen misjudgement. Teens learn through error and correction.

  • John

    One question that may have impacted the decision is what did she think was going to happen. Was she told that if you mix chemical X with chemical Y then it will explode and was curious to see if it was true or was this just a random experiment. I think I’ll mix X and Y together and see what happens. Criminal prosecution and explosion are probably overly harsh being tried as an adult with a felony is nearly unconscionable.

  • kate

    From the NewTime comments section:

    “To everyone commenting on this thread that is outraged by this chain of events: I am just as outraged as you. But it is not enough for us simply to vent on message boards because nothing gets accomplished. I strongly urge you to write a letter to the school district, local authorities, AND to the Principal. Or just pick one…but DO SOMETHING!!! And let us remember that in order to get our points across we must be INDIGNANT and DIGNIFIED! I am in the process of starting a petition, once I have gathered some more crucial facts. Please be on the lookout for this petition and be sure to sign it ( via ) in addition to your letter or letters to Polk County Law Officials, The school Principal, and the School Administration. Contact Info Can be found below:

    Bartow High School Principal Ronald Pritchard / Address: 1270 S Broadway Ave Bartow, FL 33830 / EMAIL: PHONE:(863)- 534-7400 Fax: (863)534-0077

    Polk County Superintendent: Dr. John Stewart /Address: 1915 South Floral Avenue, Bartow, FL 33831 Phone: (863) 534-0521 Fax: (863) 519-8231 Email: Dr. John Stewart

    Polk Regional Juvenile Detention Ctr

    ADDRESS: 2155 Bob Phillips Road, Bartow, FL 33830

    TEL: 863-534-7090
    FAX: 863-534-7024

    If we can all take 5-10 minutes to read this story, comment, and read posts by others then surely we can take the same amount of time to act on this child’s behalf.


    • Rita Carlin

      I’ll send some e-mails. I hope it helps. No one should be treated like that over something so stupid.

    • Melody Platz

      I called Dr. John Stewart’s office, and they re-directed me to Steve White’s office, the Senior Director of High Schools, without listening to me. Steve was unavailable. I spoke to his support person who asked me if I was on a crusade, and told me the case is still under investigation. She told me the police are the ones responsible for arresting Kiera Wilmot.

      I asked her to relay my message and to help be fair to Kiera by supporting this cause.

      The people in the school district are professionally side-lining calls. I believe we need to call until they are overwhelmed and have to make the right decision for Kiera.

      • troubles

        You do understand she made a Bomb? I made them a lot as a child they are pretty harmless if done right, but its still a explosive device and she did it on school. is it worth a felony No, but a Misdemeanor most definitely Yes and some community service if this little girl was not smart enough to know she was going to get into trouble making explosive devices on school then she needs a good wake up call. Honestly the nerve of some parents today letting there kids get away with anything and blaming the school for doing its job or law enforcement for doing theres . Kids will be kids but if you do the crime you do the time, maybe she will think next time that is if the adults in this situation act as adults and not let her get away with doing something dumb.

      • Layla

        “I believe we need to call until they are overwhelmed and have to make the right decision for Kiera.”

        This is actually not as great of an idea as it might sound. Calling the main office and yelling at a secretary until she (and it is almost always she) transfers you to a higher office (where it is even less likely that the administrator you’d like to talk to will be available) doesn’t actually do much of anything except make the secretaries lives miserable. From your account, it doesn’t sound really like the school district secretaries are being super professional (asking a caller if they’re on a crusade? Yikes! That’s a huge no-no) but I think it’s safe to assume that the office secretaries have likely had their fill of people calling and complaining to them on top of all the usual complaints. Obviously this sucks, and this is a flaw in the way offices are run (especially school offices) but generally the person who answers your call is not at all someone who is in a position to make or enforce new policies, nor are they generally going to be someone who can tell you much beyond “we are doing our best to deal with this situation. We will forward your concerns to the appropriate parties.” That’s partly because it’s unlikely they’ll know much about any sort of situation like this (which is a GOOD thing, if they don’t know much it means the school is at least taking privacy policies seriously) but also because they can’t share information they know with the press or public, and again, this is a good thing because, privacy.

        You’re much more likely to be heard by e-mailing the actual folks in charge or faxing letters to their attention, signing petitions, etc instead of calling and beating up on the people who are the lowest paid and least equipped to actually do anything with your complaint other than forward you into someone’s voicemail. Secretaries are expected to be able to deal with bullshit on a daily basis, they will not complain in turn to their bosses that they must do something because the call volume is too much. That’s like asking to get fired.

        Also remember too that even when you do contact an individual, no one in the administration has sole power over community standards decisions, which again, is a good thing because it means we don’t have school dictators, but it also means that even the principal or superintendent might not be able to give you a definitive answer. It’s extremely frustrating, but decisions made about things like these often require many, many meetings between all of the higher ups and that takes time. People who try to professionally sideline calls aren’t necessarily being rude or dismissive, in fact, they may genuinely feel as you do about an issue, BUT they have to follow procedure as well, which unfortunately usually involves a lot of bureaucracy.

        I feel very sorry for Kiera and I think the school was wrong in their punishment for her, but bombarding the office with phone calls won’t help her.

  • Maggie Gilman

    Thank you so much for this article! I have created a petition – please sign and share with as many people as you can!

    Thank you and keep up the amazing, and informative work!

  • PMC

    While this situation is outrageous and infuriating, your teacher bashing is inappropriate, particularly since it was not the teachers or even the administrators that perpetuated this situation. I am a CPS teacher and not all of us are setting out to destroy children. In fact, some of us actively are trying to dismantle racism, sexism, ableism etc. from within the system and fighting the fight everyday. When I see comments like yours, it’s just adds to the daily onslaught that is perpetuated by the media and politicians. Stop generalizing, particularly with personal anecdotes. It’s poor journalism and invalidates the incredibly difficult work of many teachers who are fighting covert/overt oppression like me.

    • Franzia Kafka

      Um, she’s talking about the politics of the educational system as an institution, not demonizing individual teachers. *As an institution*, one of schools’ main social functions is to maintain discipline. This would be one of those instances where that not-so-savory social function comes into relief.

  • Dan

    It’s reaching to call the actions described a ‘science experiment’. She knowingly created and detonated an explosive, within about 50 feet of an occupied building and well within 100 yards of nonparticipating pedestrians, and without being able to estimate the yield of the explosion.

    I wouldn’t call it ‘discharging a weapon’ or ‘placing a destructive device’, but I would call it at least criminal negligence.

    And yes, I did detonate ‘destructive devices’ of higher yield than that, but only where I had taken steps to ensure the nonexistence of bystanders and far away from all structures. I also knew about the laws, the reasons behind them, and took a few basic precautions to both not get caught and to have plausible deniability if I was. Wilmot did not take any steps to identify or reduce risk to bystanders, does not appear to have known about the relevant rules and laws, and clearly took no steps to avoid getting caught or to have plausible deniability if she was. Her crime, far worse than setting a bomb, was being stupid about setting a bomb. Unfortunately, the consequences for that action will have to come from law enforcement rather than arising automatically and naturally from the offense.

    Had Wilmot detonated her ‘science experiment’ in the scrub even 1000 feet east of the location in the police report, or the woods a half mile to the southeast, or better yet the forest two miles east of the center of town by the water treatment plant (only a short walk from the #25 bus stop on Oaklawn Drive), there would have been essentially no risk to bystanders and a similar reduction in the risk of getting caught.

    • Charles

      I agree Dan … she “knowingly” created an explosion “criminal neglect” wise … and with the “intent” to harm or kill herself … regardless of any other persons or property. But wait, if she “knowingly” did this, then what happen to her “self-preservation” logic — did she just turn it off?

      I think before we start “projecting” or “assuming” what 308 million Americans could have known, should have known a priori or a posteriori, whether teens or adults, might want to conduct a census to validate our taken-for-granted logic, projections, and assumptions … for it’s a fact … there is no “common knowledge” for 308 million Americans … only circumstantial, differential, and disparate … depending on a whole lot of factors.

      In short, this teen made a “mistake” … and we know this to be a fact only because some group of adults (principal, school board, and law enforcement) had the power to define it as such. If these same persons had judged otherwise, then we’d not be posting, commenting, as the incident would not have been made news. So let’s not second-guess her guilt or stupidity, but give her that principled benefit of the doubt — 100% innocent until proven guilty at best … and at worst, she’s an imperfect logical, imperfect rational, human being … which hard constitutes “criminal neglect”.

      • Heidi Law

        Yes. I doubt that she had intended to ignite an explosion, without permission, in the middle of class. The article states that she has no history of behavioral problems and has kept good grades. More than likely she made a careless mistake. I would image she was horrified and terribly embarrassed. Then she was hauled off by campus security and is possibly facing felony charges. What a disgrace. Talk about bad to worse. How is that justice?

  • Karen Wiggins

    O.M.G. If I was a judge I would be throwing this out of my courtroom. Why should a student be punished for curiousity??? Could she have chosen a better, safer place for her experiment? Sure! But not be charged as an ADULT FELON… she could be the next brain who cures cancer for all we know and we’re now condemning her to a very harsh fate indeed. Would this have happened to a nice Blonde-Haired-Blue-Eyed beauty?? Who knows.

    • Dan

      Would your opinion be the same if the exact same actions were taken but a bystander were to be permanently blinded by the superheated steam and drain cleaner that was the explosion? Only factors completely uncontrolled by the students involved separate what you call a harmless experimentation from a tragedy. If the punishment is lenient, then other experiments of a similar nature will not be discouraged as much as they could be.

      One of the ‘experiments’ of roughly equal complexity and danger to bystanders is homemade thermite. Thermite on the sidewalk will burn a hole into or through the concrete and splatters molten metal hot enough to cause small third degree burns. Shouldn’t curiosity about thermite expressed on school grounds be severely punished?

      • rondell

        its funny because a 13 year old in florida willingly pumped up a bb gun, aimed it at his 10 year old brother’s head and squeezed the trigger. The polk county sherrif said that the boys were “just being kids.” and it was a “tragic lesson.” No charges were filed even though someone lost their life. But this poor girl will have this felony on her record forever even though no damage was done to either property or person, she was just curious and probably was not expecting her experiment to blow up like that, so u compare the two and tell me which do u think is worse. OH and mind you, the SAME prosecutor who gave police the OK to arrest Wilmot is the same one who elected not to charge the 13 year old boy.

        • a male

          “its funny because a 13 year old in florida willingly pumped up a bb gun, aimed it at his 10 year old brother’s head and squeezed the trigger.”

          I do not see in the articles at your links that the shooting was willful or with intent, or that the bb gun was even deliberately aimed at the brother’s head. I have been deliberately shot by an middle school classmate with an airgun, however.

          Accidental shootings and killings are not only possible, but a common way for a child to be killed with a gun, nearly 1,000 a year. It doesn’t mean it was a crime for one child to shoot another dead.

          Next read this:

          The 2012 Florida Statutes

          790.001 Definitions.—As used in this chapter, except where the context otherwise requires:


          (4) “Destructive device” means any bomb, grenade, mine, rocket, missile, pipebomb, or similar device containing an explosive, incendiary, or poison gas and includes any frangible container filled with an explosive, incendiary, explosive gas, or expanding gas, which is designed or so constructed as to explode by such filler and is capable of causing bodily harm or property damage; any combination of parts either designed or intended for use in converting any device into a destructive device and from which a destructive device may be readily assembled; any device declared a destructive device by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; any type of weapon which will, is designed to, or may readily be converted to expel a projectile by the action of any explosive and which has a barrel with a bore of one-half inch or more in diameter; and ammunition for such destructive devices, but not including shotgun shells or any other ammunition designed for use in a firearm other than a destructive device. “Destructive device” does not include:
          (a) A device which is not designed, redesigned, used, or intended for use as a weapon;
          (b) Any device, although originally designed as a weapon, which is redesigned so that it may be used solely as a signaling, line-throwing, safety, or similar device;
          (c) Any shotgun other than a short-barreled shotgun; or
          (d) Any nonautomatic rifle (other than a short-barreled rifle) generally recognized or particularly suitable for use for the hunting of big game.
          (5) “Explosive” means any chemical compound or mixture that has the property of yielding readily to combustion or oxidation upon application of heat, flame, or shock, including but not limited to dynamite, nitroglycerin, trinitrotoluene, or ammonium nitrate when combined with other ingredients to form an explosive mixture, blasting caps, and detonators; but not including:
          (a) Shotgun shells, cartridges, or ammunition for firearms;
          (b) Fireworks as defined in s. 791.01;
          (c) Smokeless propellant powder or small arms ammunition primers, if possessed, purchased, sold, transported, or used in compliance with s. 552.241;
          (d) Black powder in quantities not to exceed that authorized by chapter 552, or by any rules adopted thereunder by the Department of Financial Services, when used for, or intended to be used for, the manufacture of target and sporting ammunition or for use in muzzle-loading flint or percussion weapons.

          [As you can see in the destructive device or explosive "does not include" sections, it is a stretch, under Florida law, to call a bottle bomb a destructive device, because it was not intended as a weapon. I could be considered an explosive if it is "any chemical compound or mixture that has the property of yielding readily to combustion or oxidation upon application of heat, flame, or shock." A bottle bomb has explicitly been considered a destructive device in numerous other states by fire or law enforcement representatives, when classifying construction, possession, planting or use as a felony, however.]

          790.161 Making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device or attempt so to do, felony; penalties.—A person who willfully and unlawfully makes, possesses, throws, projects, places, discharges, or attempts to make, possess, throw, project, place, or discharge any destructive device:
          (1) Commits a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.084.
          (2) If the act is perpetrated with the intent to do bodily harm to any person, or with the intent to do property damage, or if the act results in a disruption of governmental operations, commerce, or the private affairs of another person, commits a felony of the second degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.084.
          (3) If the act results in bodily harm to another person or in property damage, commits a felony of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.084.
          (4) If the act results in the death of another person, commits a capital felony, punishable as provided in s. 775.082. In the event the death penalty in a capital felony is held to be unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court or the United States Supreme Court, the court having jurisdiction over a person previously sentenced to death for a capital felony shall cause such person to be brought before the court, and the court shall sentence such person to life imprisonment if convicted of murder in the first degree or of a capital felony under this subsection, and such person shall be ineligible for parole. No sentence of death shall be reduced as a result of a determination that a method of execution is held to be unconstitutional under the State Constitution or the Constitution of the United States.

          [See 790.161 (1): "Commits a felony of the third degree."]

          No harm does NOT equal no foul. The law says that’s a felony. It does not say felony “does not include” scientific curiosity or if one is a star student with a clean record.

          If authorities interpret it that way, that’s the law. It’s happened to other young people around the US, as young as ELEVEN. What’s happening to this young woman is terrible, but it is what has happened before.

          A knife in school is a knife in school, whether it is used to kill, or it is something used to open envelopes and boxes, forgotten in a backpack. Tylenol is a drug, just like crystal meth. My children’s school is zero tolerance. They will not care that my children are honor roll students placing in the top 1% of students statewide, or that my son is a state champion going to the nationals. They can be arrested and expelled too.

          • Jeff T Hartung

            When debating, make sure you don’t overlook something:

            Making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any DESTRUCTIVE DEVICE

            “Destructive device” does NOT include:
            (a) A device which is NOT designed, redesigned, used, or INTENDED for use as a weapon;

            You even said it yourself it was a stretch to call the experiment a destructive device.

            “Tylenol is a drug, just like crystal meth.” I won’t even go there. Maybe I should just “leave a knife” in your son’s car,call the authorities on you, and see how much you like zero tolerance policies after your son is arrested and charged for possession of a weapon. Thankfully since your son is within the top 1% of his graduating class, highly involved, and has a clean record, the school board will be able to differentiate between an accident and a threat….. oh wait, zero tolerance already threw critical thinking and common sense out the window.

      • Ben Miller

        Sometimes, high school chemistry students try to wash alkali metals down the drain. When they turn the faucet, flames can potentially burst out from all the sink drains in the room, which can burn innocent bystanders standing at their desks on the other side of the room. How much more “unsuspecting” could those bystanders be? And yet, the students who make that mistake are not punished.

        Mind you, that IS setting of an explosion on school grounds, and that CAN hurt bystanders… What makes this different?

      • Ben Miller

        Wow, that’s just wrong. Thermite is a long-lasting, highly exothermic reaction.

        A more comparable reaction would be alkali + water, a common high school chemistry experiment.

  • Sio

    I came here from tumblr, which is why my account’s so new.

    That said, I have to ask how this teen couldn’t have known of the potential for explosions. Especially considering there’s been noise about “Drano bombs” which have enough distructive force to significantly injure someone who’s holding or standing near them in the news lately. White, black, or any other race, this girl decided to conduct an “experiement” on school grounds without notifying any member of the staff which resulted in the creation and subsequent detonation of a bomb on school grounds. Which is why she’s being punished. As would a white young man who did the same thing. A simple google search will tell you that certain chemicals mixed together in a confined vessel will cause and explosion and common sense will tell you not to do that at school without notifying at least your chemistry teacher if it’s truly completely innocent.

    • Sarafina

      You know it really bothers me when people try to claim, “it isn’t because she is black, this would have happened to a white student” Have you EVER looked at the black student expel and arrest statistics?

      She is being made an example of and also, please use google before saying this would happen to ‘any’ student, because that is incorrect. I’ve counted (so far) three white students who did a similar act and weren’t being charged with felonies. Please, stop trying to down play this as not a racial issue. Just because Obama is president doesn’t mean discrimination against people of color has stopped.

      • fyoumudflaps

        You said it. These types of douchebag comments are ALWAYS, ALWAYS from commenters with a male name. You can just hear the smarmyness in their tone through the screen.

        • a male

          Smarmy? YOU try looking up “bottle bomb” and “felony” online to confirm what I am claiming regarding possible penalties and actual arrests and felony prosecutions of young people (as young as ELEVEN) from coast to coast in the US even if NO harm was caused, even if they possessed just the ingredients to construct a “bottle bomb.” Up to TWENTY FIVE YEARS in jail, up to $250,000 fine. 1-5 years in jail for even having a FAKE bottle bomb.

          Again: if such a “science project” or “harmless prank” was left outside a women’s clinic, or outside the homes of staff members, would you feel the same way?

          • Ben Miller

            Scary world we live in where people can be held accountable for the irrational fears of others. I believe there was a marketing campaign for ATHF turned into a bomb scare because of the irrationality of bystanders. How horrifying when others can make the most illogical assumption possible and suddenly you’re being charged with a crime for their assumptions! Anyone with hobbies should be terrified. Someone could look through a window and see something like model-train building and suddenly the model train builder is being arrested for their meth or bomb lab.

    • Jeanie

      I totally agree with you. This whole situation is ridiculous on so many levels, starting with the fact that she failed to practice ANY type of judgment and/or common sense. If she is such an exemplary student, I’d conceive the notion that she is rather smart and therefore should possess some common sense. I do think the overall pending punishment thus far is a tad harsh, however I do not believe she should be exempt from disciplinary action. I disagree with the public comments that she is being punished based on society’s “fears” or due to her race. If it were just innocent sheer curiosity, why didn’t she simply conduct her experiment on the grounds of her home? Plenty of household chemicals there I’m sure. Oh wait, her parents might not have appreciated that too much. I strongly feel she got the idea from someone or somewhere and wanted to show off at school. Do I think folks should be penalized for showing off? No. But she didn’t make a stupid mistake, she engaged in criminal activity. With all the talk in the media about explosive devices, DIY bomb building etc, there is no way she didn’t know better. This “experiment” could’ve ended very differently, the fact that it didn’t do devastation is not something she had control over and she should consider herself VERY lucky for that fact alone. It could have done serious injury to any bystanders and while she may not have known precisely what would happen, she chose to do something so stupid which put other people in the way of potential harm. If a person drives a car in to a crowd of people just to “see what would happen” in the name of some “experiment”, does that make it any less of a threat or crime? No. If a person set a bottle bomb inside a bank full of people and it failed to detonate as expected, does that mean no harm no foul? No. I get that her intentions weren’t malicious and I believe that about her incident, but she still violated a code of conduct and the law. For all the people complaining that she just made a stupid mistake, get a grip. Like I said she is lucky it didn’t yield worse results. If anyone had been hurt, but for her actions and/or negligence those people wouldn’t have gotten hurt, period! Just because no one was injured doesn’t make it less of a threat. Let’s say she is let off with a warning and next week one of her classmates/peers builds a similar device except it actually causes serious injury or destruction, perhaps blows a students face off for example, then everyone would be complaining and whining that the school officials and LE didn’t do their job the first time- because if they had the second incident wouldn’t have occurred. They cant win in the eye of public opinion! Make up your minds people….rules are in place for a reason, if these rules aren’t enforced, of what good use are they to exist? Should she be charged with felonies and expelled, not so much. But she should receive “no fuss” serious consequences. It’s sad that people are making it about race too, I highly doubt it has anything to do with it. Stop teaching our youth that everything comes down to race, because it doesn’t! Giving them a victim card to play every time they’re in the hot seat does NOT teach them to be accountable for their actions and it does them NO justice in the long run. Basically it puts in to their minds that “Society is against me because of my skin color, I should be on the defense at all times” which is absurd and extremely counterproductive. I personally would want the same ramifications regardless of what gender or race the offender is.

  • Franzia Kafka

    “So why did it go down like this?”

    Boston Marathon bombings. The felony charge is completely absurd, but I’m betting people’s nail-biting about “terrorism” and “homemade bombs” from the wall-to-wall media coverage of the bombings had no small part in the overreaction.

  • Tammi

    The principal, who is quoted as believing it was a firecracker at first, said this in a TV news interview: “She’s a good kid and, you know, she made a bad choice. She was not trying to be malicious or to harm anybody or destroy something at school or anything else.”

    Dan, do you believe that this 16 year old student, described by her principal above, with an exemplary record and no previous history of desctructive behavior should be handcuffed, expelled from school, charged with a felony, and — if convicted — face the likely chain of jail time and loss of education- and future employment opportunities for what popped off the top of a bottle and sounded like a firecracker?

    Really, Dan?

    You think we should mobilize police staff, local attorneys, a judge, and the resources of a detention facility to contain that girl as a threat?

    Really, Dan?

    You think your tax resources are well spent to achieve all of the above to check the “it could have harmed someone and she should have known better” behavior of *that* teenage girl?

    Really, Dan?

  • Tammi

    Channel my rage into a Facebook page:

    “Like” if you want to track the news on this. I’m afraid she’s going to be just another kid disappearing into the bowels of the U.S. criminal justice system. :-/

  • R

    I want to know why the teacher knew nothing of the specific project. That being said, my science classes in third and sixth grade performed this experiment so I assume it’s common enough since it has a name: “pop your top,” where the mixing of common household products causes the top of the film canister to shoot several feet in the air. That’s why in 6th grade we did it outside. In both cases, the teacher demonstrated first, then in groups the students performed the experiment.

    • a male

      “I want to know why the teacher knew nothing of the specific project.”

      Perhaps because the teacher simply meant it was NOT an authorized construction or setting off of the alleged device as part of a sanctioned project or activity, not that the science teacher was ignorant of the reaction involved?

  • Aaron B. Brown

    A consequence of the post-9/11 era, and of course everyone is especially sensitive after what happened in Boston. Also a consequence of violence in schools across America, particularly urban schools. Florida has had a number of deadly campus shootings in recent years, one of the reasons why there are police presences in the vast majority of high schools across the state. Bartow Seems to be in a more rural area near Lakeland, I know nothing about it other than that.

    Something like this would have been handled by the principle alone when I was in high school in the 80s in Florida, doubtful that the police would’ve even been involved, other than to be called as a precaution. We don’t know all the particulars of the incident, but if it was as described, it seems absurd to expel a student, preventing them from getting their diploma from that school, and then charging her with multiple felonies on top of that. Yeah, let’s ruin somebody’s life for being a kid. Perhaps there is a privatized juvenile incarceration facility nearby, and some corporation is making money off criminalizing children in the area, that wouldn’t surprise me a bit. Those type of facilities are cropping up all over the place in Southern states.

    And anybody who thinks there isn’t a racial component in this, doesn’t know anything about Florida. Other than urbanized cosmopolitan areas like South Florida, it is the South. And even in Dade and Broward County white folks were still getting away with hanging black teenagers from trees well into the late 70s.

    • a male

      Young Caucasian male in Florida. No injuries. No damage. Experimenting. Not malicious. Barred from campus. Multiple felony charges.

      Comment? I am being sincere here. There is so much coverage of this incident that it is difficult to find others in Florida (so the same laws apply). Can you show me how non-African Americans accused of using bottle bombs are treated differently? I have looked up bottle bomb and misdemeanor. I can’t see any. I haven’t seen stories of people avoiding arrest if caught either. I am not denying racism in general or in the justice system.

      From Keira’s lawyer himself:

      At the time of that report, not being charged as an adult, not charged with a felony. Still in the juvenile system. Prosecutor NOT being overly harsh. He does discuss pranks and overreactions in more general terms. He sees it a lot, he says. Shouldn’t he of all people, be telling us how inappropriate or unfair this case is? He’s trying to “avoid” felony charges, not denying that the law applies. He says the school board is the final authority. Not the media. Not the public.

  • Omar El-Shaer

    Before I defend her action, the article wasn’t clear if that was an assignment that she was demonstrating, or just wanted to look cool to her friends. I have kids in elementary school, and they do get assignments, and if that was one, then the school and the police can’t treat her the way they are, however, if she wanted to just show off how much she knows and what she knows then Yes the police have the right to prosecute. Therefore, I am not going to sign the petition till we get more details. and I recommend for the rest to do the same. We need more details about the incident before we rally in her defense.

  • John Link

    Thank you for posting this story.

    “Even the principle thinks it was simply a poor decision.” Oops! Being a graduate of a Chicago Public School you must know that it was the principal who thinks it was simply a poor decision.

  • Alois Ballweber

    If the charges do go forward the real criminals will be Florida State Attorney Jerry Hill and Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty !

    • a male

      Everybody, please read these excerpts from the mouth of Keira’s attorney, Larry Hardaway:

      Business Insider: What’s the latest on Kiera’s situation?
      Larry Hardaway: Right now we have stayed the administration’s proceedings with the school board until we can work out a resolution. On the juvenile prosecution part, the state attorney’s office has not decided to file charges. We will have further negotiations next week about how to move forward without harming her. So things are moving forward.
      BI: What about those two felonies?
      LH: I’m working as hard as I can to keep those from happening. Those are still available for the state of Florida to do. Those conversations that we’ve had are confidential, but personally I don’t think they will go forward in that fashion.

      BI: Does Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty have a history of levying too-harsh charges?
      LH: Oh, no. No, Tammy is a very fine prosecutor.
      Some of the comments I’ve heard are inaccurate. I wish people wouldn’t make those comments about Tammy, because they are untrue.
      There are prosecutors that are sometimes hardened, and aren’t as sensitive as they should be, but that wouldn’t be Tammy Glotfelty.

      Did everybody get that? So far, she’s NOT being charged as an adult, NOT being charged with felonies. Not yet. See any accusations of unfairness or racism from the ATTORNEY or the FAMILY, the people who SHOULD have the most to say? No? Good. Can we stop attacking the authorities? She’s a prosecutor. She’s supposed to make an incident look as bad as possible, even with loved ones and the community telling us how nice the defendant is.

  • Cindy

    Why do people always want to play the race card? She’s not in trouble because she’s black. She’s in trouble because she had to know what she was doing, and even if she didn’t, by all accounts, she’s a smart girl and should have either known better or at least checked into it first (ever hear of Google? or maybe ask your chemistry teacher?) Not only could she have hurt herself she could have hurt others. For some of you to defend her actions is just plain ignorant. Just because she’s a good student, by no means justifies her actions. By all accounts they said those boys that bombed Boston were good kids too. Darn right she’s in trouble. Too much of this kind of thing keeps happening and to justify what she did it is just plain wrong.

    • a male

      No, please, do not bring up the bombing in Boston. That’s terrorism. I have spent literal hours reading about this story and others. Even if authorities do consider a “bottle bomb” to be a “destructive device” or “explosive” under Florida state law, and classify this incident as a felony, I have not seen anyone accuse this young woman or anyone else using a bottle bomb to be a terrorist. Just because I bring up the law or how a “bottle bomb” is considered by fire officials, law enforcement or some attorneys to be a felony in at least 16 states I have read about, does not mean I in any way believe this young woman deserves what she is getting, or that she is a terrorist or “real” criminal. She’s a star student with no previous record. I always see that nice stock photo of her. No one has a bad word about her. Fine.

      I’m not even saying she did it with any intent to cause harm. I’m just saying, the law says X, authorities in Florida and elsewhere consider this X, and X has happened to young people around the US before. Kids as young as ELEVEN, or even for just possessing INGREDIENTS, not a bottle bomb have faced felony charges. (Even a FAKE bottle bomb is a felony in at least Virginia, subject to 1-5 in jail.) Someone just going home from the supermarket could be bringing home a bottled beverage, drain cleaner and aluminum foil in a paper bag. But no, if the police stop and search you, that could be a felony.

      For sure, according to Keira’s attorney, school policy in that county says X, and is probably zero tolerance like my kids’ school. No harm does NOT equal no foul.

      There’s another felony “bottle bomb” case in Florida from November, which involved a caucasian teen. Christian Barnes Duke faced multiple felony charges for setting off a “bottle bomb” at his school dorm, allegedly copying something he saw on “Mythbusters.” At a technical institute. No injuries, no damage. Science experiment, no? Curious, no? A prank, no? No harm, no foul, no?

      For sure, he was barred from campus. Strangely, there are no further reports after early December 2012. It’s like the case disappeared after he was arrested and charged. Were charges dropped? Did he go to trial? Is he still being held? What he does not have is vocal supporters, numerous petitions for leniency, a lawyer making statements, or a stock photo of him looking nice, in every story about him. No, I see what looks like a mug shot or him in handcuffs.

      Please recall, in other incidents around the US, bottle bombs are alleged to have caused second or third degree burns, loss of function in fingers, severed fingers, lost parts of limbs, eye damage, or even total loss of vision. There are many sources, including professionals who describe and perform this “experiment” who warn that it is DANGEROUS, and ILLEGAL in numerous jurisdictions, and NOT TO DO IT. I know my kids do not watch news at all. So I tell them what not to do. Just because I don’t allow him to set random fires or cause explosions (I did as a pre-teen at home, with fireworks, powder, natural gas and gasoline) doesn’t stop my son from wanting to be a scientist.

    • Hannah

      I agree, Cindy. This whole thing is not because she’s black. We’ve had a lot of scares recently. They talk about how she’s so smart, and so I can’t imagine she wouldn’t know something like this would happen, or she could have at least told someone. Also, a lot of people who end up hurting a lot of people are really intelligent people. I think its better to check out anyone who does something stupid like that where someone could get seriously injured or worse. If this was just a mistake then I pray she’ll receive her justice and not have any criminal charges, but I think it’s about time we start opening our eyes.

  • Sandra Jones

    I understand the sensitivity of people of color, but it seems pretty obvious in this particular instance that super-sensitivity in the wake of Boston, plus the zero tolerance policy now in place in many schools, is what led to this particular situation. I can’t help but doubt that sex, race, color, religion or creed had much to do with it.

  • Lee Brown

    Why is this girl any different than any other kid? Cause she’s black? Two 12 year old boys are facing attempted murder charges for putting the same thing in a mail box here in Idaho. No one was hurt, but that doesn’t/shouldn’t make any difference… they did the crime and should do the time…

  • George Kohler

    I love the way they just say common household chemicals without saying what they were… Hydrochloric acid, Sodium Hydroxide Lye, Aluminum??? If she was just performing an experiment she should have done it out in an open field not in a public school. Those bottle bombs can burn the flesh off someone. I think they did the right thing. If my child ever got scalded by some sociopath kid touching off bombs in the school they wouldn’t have to worry about their record that’s for sure.

  • Jenifer Nieboer

    I agree that a felony is a pretty harsh punishment. From what I’ve read, the “experiment” she performed was toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil. If you go to YouTube and search HCl + aluminum foil, you can see countless videos of people blowing up bottles. Then ask yourself if you would want that going off around your children. Just because nobody got hurt doesn’t make it ok.

  • Layla

    To those crowing that this has nothing to do with Kiera being black and female, I have one word for you: Stuebenville.

    It’s extremely telling to me that the comments on news stories about athletes who rape will be bombarded with people wringing their hands and clutching their pearls over the poor widdle boys just being boys and crying about how those sluts they abused had it coming anyway, yet a story like this is met with indifference. “If you do the crime you do the time”? Yeah right. What really sickens me is all the worry over those poor rapists “ruined” lives is cast as just concern over a ruined young life, but concern for a young woman of color making a mistake she owned up to is cast as being “on a crusade”.

    • a male

      I will not defend any handling of the Steubenville case. Rapists should be handled like rapists. Co-conspirators should also be handled like criminals. Adults should lose jobs. Idiot reporters should be punished.

      Would you care to see the difference between this case and numerous other bottle bomb cases? Those other people do not have news story after news story, or blog after blog defending them. They do not have petitions or a letter writing or phone campaign, or inquiry to make donations for defense. Charges are still pending in this case, according to the lawyer, and she is still in the juvenile system. Others as young as eleven are not so fortunate, also despite harming no one. It does not mean Keira deserves this treatment, but everyone being treated the same would be more fair than felony here, juvie there, slap on the wrist here, no charges there.

  • a male

    “You even said it yourself it was a stretch to call the experiment a destructive device.”

    Under Florida law yes. It might still be an explosive. I said I don’t consider her a real criminal. Nor am I going to defend her on emotion alone. Her own attorney is not denying anything, but trying to avoid charges and appeal to the school board. There is a difference. I am not a lawyer, but people might do to look up school policy or the law, instead of simply leaping to someone’s defense because they are male or female. The attorney and family are not denying anything. It doesn’t means she deserves it.

    “Tylenol is a drug, just like crystal meth.”

    Yes, under zero tolerance. I know the difference. I studied pharmacy to become a nurse.

    “I won’t even go there.”

    You should. Because zero tolerance and the law are the real problem, like the headline implies. Keira may get off, but thousands of others this year will not. Are you going to collect signatures and start a defense fund for every one? Instead of harassing innocent school staff with phone calls, perhaps making Keira’s situation worse, wouldn’t it be better to reexamine policy and law? At the very least, an appeal should be directed to the proper authorities, just like the lawyer says he is doing.

    “Maybe I should just “leave a knife” in your son’s car,call the authorities on you, and see how much you like zero tolerance policies after your son is arrested and charged for possession of a weapon.”

    So, you are the type to consider or threaten a false accusation of a felony in an attempt to destroy the life of my child and myself just out of spite? Thank you. Be so kind as to give me your name. Everyone keep this in mind how readily this happened, if discussion of false accusation comes up again. I advise anyone not to threaten or make unwarranted accusations against me or my family.

    “Thankfully since your son is within the top 1% of his graduating class,”

    No, my children are in middle school. Don’t forget my son is the state champion going to the nationals. Not a member of a team. The champion. Felony charges have been brought against boys as young as 11 and 12 for bottle bombs, even when no one was hurt. That a 16 year old would be charged (attorney says not yet) does not surprise me. It can happen to my kids, too. So I monitor my children’s curiosity.

    Do you know mandatory minimum sentencing, three strikes law or zero tolerance is supposed to PREVENT discrimination?

    “highly involved, and has a clean record, the school board will be able to differentiate between an accident and a threat….. oh wait, zero tolerance already threw critical thinking and common sense out the window.”

    That’s what I said. And that is likely what is happening here, as I said. Would you agree that zero tolerance is not about race?

    I would not like it at all if my family were caught up in a legal situation. That would be true, innocent or guilty. This is why the legal process is supposed to be based on facts, not emotion, and handled by the proper authorities, not the media or the public. Not even by victims.

  • a male

    There is now so much online about Keira Wilmot and this case, that it becomes challenging to learn more about other incidents involving bottle bombs, to see if this case is being treated with unusual harshness due to her ethnicity. There is so much support for Keira, that some contact information for relevant authorities is being removed from web sites, and phone lines are being disconnected. This was not reported occurring in other cases involving teens and preteens being arrested and charged with felonies for bottle bombs, nor did they reportedly have these support campaigns and offers of money.

    Keep in mind that Keira’s lawyer is one of those callers, probably THE most important and one of the only relevant callers trying with increasing difficulty to get through, because he says he is on these people every day. A flood of random strangers demanding “FREE KEIRA” accusing them of being racists is of questionable value. Attorney Larry Hardaway says

    “Her mom is trying to do the best she can. She doesn’t have funds to do all that we want to do. We are trying to just do the best that we can. We may set up something to get funds, but I tell you, what’s really helping us the most right now is the outpouring and community attention to this and the many petitions seeking the kind of justice that we think should occur. That is really helping us the most right now.”

    People can choose to take the time to go through stacks of petitions and supportive letters. Office staff cannot sort routine calls they need to do their jobs from the flood of others demanding they do what is “right” or until they get “justice.”

    I have found a copy of the incident report regarding this case:

    Who’s this “friend” who allegedly taught her to do this and assisted in filling the bottle, but ran faster than she did? Why isn’t there a name, and why can’t we find him? That’s relevant, particularly if you want to talk about fairness. This boy should be going through the same experience, with the same kind of support and offers of donations for his defense.

    I now know why this is claimed to be a “science experiment.” Keira said it was for science fair. I see the 58th State Science and Engineering Fair was back in March. Polk probably had their regional Secondary Science Fair back in February. This is May.

    The science teacher claims to know nothing. There is no report of materials to document or record this experiment, nor equipment to measure out the ingredients, e.g., 10ml of solution plus 1cm x 1cm of foil in a 100ml glass beaker does X, 10ml of solution plus 2cm x 1cm of foil does Y. What is the ideal ratio of materials for the solution to completely react with the aluminum? What shapes should the foil be crumpled into, and how tightly, to vary the rate or intensity of the reaction? Which brand of cleaner, what concentration or dilution of each, creates what kind of reaction? Intense green smoke, hiss for 31 seconds. Scant whitish smoke for ten seconds, bang, splash of translucent “iced tea” colored fluid in a 53 cm radius, hiss for seven seconds more. Grass yellowed and dead three days later. No report of eye protection or materials for safe handling. Was she going to prepare tables and graphs for a report? Was she going to prepare PowerPoints? Having those would help her story.

    What is the equation for the chemical reaction? How much energy does it release? How is this reaction relevant? Should we put foil down our toilets when cleaning? What happens if people unknowingly discard gum wrappers in a toilet being left by a custodian to soak with cleaner? Print it out. Bind it. Mount it on the board, with tables and figures. Present.

    Maybe not a winner, but that’s a project. Preparing this would be evidence it was a project. Someone could tell them, particularly the scientists coming out in support of Keira.

    Science is more than just, bang, huh huh huh huh huh. One also needs to ask questions and look for answers. My mother was a high school chemistry teacher for 33 years, who won a national award for teaching, and also had a student win a national award (free trip to NASA Johnson Space Center). She taught her students how to prepare, document and analyze their work. She also taught us lab safety, and how to clean. I knew the difference between science and me screwing around at home alone with hazardous materials. Huh huh huh.

    If one only believes a reaction will smoke, why put it in a bottle, and seal the bottle tight and explode loudly enough to attract the vice-principal’s attention? One unscientific source I see claims the reaction will produce a cloud of gas 700 times the volume of the solution (hence the explosion). Don’t be trying to seal it. It’s called a pressure bomb for a reason.

    The code of conduct for Polk County schools:


    A student who is in possession of a bomb, explosive device, or substance or materials intended for use in a bomb or explosive device or substance while at school or a school sponsored activity, on School Board property or a school bus (unless the material or device is being used as part of a legitimate school-related activity or science project conducted under the supervision of an instructor with the knowledge and consent of the principal), is guilty of a serious breach of conduct punishable as follows:

    8. Expulsion from School (for not less than one full year)

    It’s the school board’s job to decide what that means. I believe they and the attorney should be left alone to deal with that, not a flood of “FREE KEIRA” to their homes or offices. I was a teacher for 12 years, three in public school. I wouldn’t appreciate a flood of people making demands until they get what they think is “right.”

    Expulsion is the only prescribed action for section 7.05. There is no Level 3.: Detention, here.

    At my children’s school, we had to attend orientation for each grade, separately, on their first day of school. We had to document that we were familiar with our school’s code of conduct. Administration and local police on hand gave very explicit warnings against certain behaviors and the penalties for them. The principal’s focus was bullying. (“Gay” is the only forbidden word on campus. I can think of more.) The police were focused on sexting. There is no question that children (middle school, remember) were meant to understand that they would be arrested for child pornography if they transmitted photos of even themselves.

    Parents and concerned citizens who do not like this code of conduct, should have done something before incidents occur, or this is going to keep on happening.

  • Tammi

    I’ve had a lot of time since my last post to get things done and I have. I’m back to encourage you folks who haven’t yet learned where to turn to act. Two links: Facebook support page and the website: — I’ve posted the contact information for school officials, the state attorney’s office, and the school board commissioners as well as the links to the petition, the legal fund, and various articles (including the interviews with the lawyer).

    Please take the time to do something.

    • a male

      Tammi, that is a beautiful website. Did you start the Facebook page as well?

      I will call the best single source on this story that I have seen, after hours of searching and reading. I have offered my support, using my real name. If you ever come across it, please keep my name private.

      I am still waiting to hear more as it develops. Next week, says Larry Hardaway.

      I am going through my own financial issues, in part due to being injured by a drunk driver in December, and expenses for my son’s national competition. (He tells reporters he wants to become a scientist.) I am paying forward some of my community’s support for my family.

      Take care.

  • a male

    My idea of a made for TV drama, fairy tale ending would be, require Keira Wilmot (this is a community service or disciplinary action) to create a real science project like I have outlined (and daresay, only I have described, despite full time, professional scientists following the story), with the approval of the principal and under the supervision of her science teacher (to meet Code of Conduct requirements), with proper materials, equipment and safety measures. She could present it in next year’s science fair, or for the media, or as a Public Service Announcement for curious kids everywhere to know, don’t be doing this on your own.

    If she has scientific curiosity, she should be interested in knowing how different brands and different amounts, concentrations or dilutions of cleaner react with different amounts and configurations of aluminum foil. (And if not, this is meant as a punishment as an *alternative* to being expelled and charged with a felony, after all.) I forgot to add, use a temperature probe or thermal imager to see how hot the boiling liquid gets. Document those with the different concoctions as well. Which brand/combination/total amount of material is hottest?

    As an added bonus, she could be authorized, with proper safety precautions (Mythbusters goes to a law enforcement firing range or empty quarry with fire department or bomb squad standing by) to deliberately test large scale bottle bombs. She used an 8-0z container. How would she like to do it, using the best recipe for big bangs her experiment has found, using every size of bottled beverage container she can get her hands on? How about a plastic 7 gallon water carrier from Walmart? How about a 55 gallon plastic drum? Would that demonstrate to her and everyone how dangerous a bottle bomb is? How about with a pig carcass (a la Mythbusters) or some other simulated human material, to demonstrate the danger of screwing around with bottle bombs at home?

    There are a number of people who SHOULD be interested in helping Keira with such a project. Mythbusters could have her as a guest (get more people of color, please, not just a nerdy Asian man famous for his robots) and there are any number of shows with an interest in science, who should be picking up on this story. Toilet cleaner companies should be offering their products for real scientific trial instead of putting it into the eyes or skin of lab animals. Schools should be lining up to offer her a more welcoming (or scientifically challenging) institution to attend, or offer college scholarships when she is older. Potential employers should be offering her science related work now or in the future – we know from attorney Larry Hardaway that the family is having some tough times, particularly now. Even an expulsion or criminal penalty shouldn’t stop her from doing better than going down the road for failure common to many with a record.

    How are the people with influence not noticing Keira Wilmot, and all the media and online interest she is generating, even though she and her family have not said a word in public? This could be a PR win for them, if nothing else.