Kiera Wilmot still dreams of being an engineer, although having two felony charges and an arrest record at 16 has made that difficult.
Kiera, now 17, is still trying to get back into a routine of normalcy, doing the things normal teens do, starting with graduating. She and her older twin sister, Kayla, graduated from Bartow High School in Florida on June 3, and both are looking forward to the bright future that was threatened last year.
By way of refresher, Kiera is the whiz kid who was arrested at her school in April 2013 after a science-project idea gone wrong, in which she mixed toilet-bowl cleaner and tinfoil in a water bottle to see what would happen. She had brought the project to the school to have it approved by her science teacher, who had told the class to bring ideas for the science fair. When she attempted a demonstration for her peers, there was a “pop” from the bottle as the cap blew off, followed by some billowing smoke.
No one was hurt, no property was damaged, and yet her experiment got her arrested by Bartow police for two felonies: “possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property and making, possessing, throwing, projecting, placing, or discharging any destructive device,” according to the incident report.
Kiera, who remembers that day in startling detail and chronology, sounded subdued as she relived it with The Root. “It wasn’t for a while that I realized what was happening,” the Florida native said, explaining her interaction with school officials after the incident. She thought that the situation was over after the original questioning. It wasn’t until later, when the dean of discipline removed her from classes, that the weight of what was happening really began to hit her.
“[The resource officer] said, ‘You know, this could get you charged,’ and he said, ‘Actually it will get you charged.’ [He told me] that I’m going to be recommended for expulsion. I was shocked and I was thinking, ‘What’s my mom going to do with me?’” she said. “He said, ‘You’re going to be arrested today,’ and I started crying—like, I hid my face in my backpack and everything.”
Luckily, Kiera was never held for any significant time, but the implications from the incident didn’t disappear so quickly.
A Struggle to Graduate
With tensions still high on her return to Bartow High after a 10-day suspension, it was recommended at that point that she not finish the remainder of her junior year, even though there were only five weeks left. To be sure that she could keep up academically, she was sent to an alternative school with children who had discipline problems for the remainder of the school year. She would be allowed to return to Bartow High, and attend classes with her sister again, for her senior year.
Her sister, Kayla, told The Root how lonely it was at Bartow High without Kiera and how harsh people were after the incident. The girls were often mistaken for each other, so Kayla was called a terrorist (something Kiera also had to deal with). Sometimes, even knowing that Kayla was not Kiera, peers would still taunt the older twin, saying that they “deserved what they got” and “should be in jail.”
“They made me not want to go to school at that time. Everything was going on; it was just way too much stress,” Kiera said about her eventual return to Bartow High. “Some people are still a little mean about it. Some have forgotten about it. I’m hoping everybody forgets about it.”
That’s not the only impact the incident has had on her. During her suspension, the A and B student saw her grades drop to D’s and F’s. Although she managed to bring them back up to par at the alternative school, she was still denied the right to graduate with honors like her sister because of the circumstances: her troubles at the school, the drop in her grades one semester, and the fact that she broke her attendance at the school to attend the alternative school.
The family didn’t have the strength left to fight another fight—they were already tired from the legal battles they’d fought and were just happy to see her walk across the stage.
“I was glad that they let me graduate,” Kiera said. “I did have a dream one night that … I had all my [graduation gear] on and then they stopped me and said, ‘Oh, by the way, we were [going] through everybody’s records and you still have two felony charges, so you can’t walk.’ … I was getting a little scared, but I’m glad that it’s all done now.”