"Florida Honor Student Arrested For Science Experiment Cleared of Charges, Going To Space Camp"
A Florida honor student who was expelled and faced possible felony charges for a science experiment gone awry has not only been cleared of charges, she’s heading to space camp thanks to a former NASA employee.
Sixteen-year-old Kiera Wilmot combined household cleaner and aluminum foil in an eight-ounce water bottle on school grounds on April 22, curious to see what would happen. The chemical reaction “created a pop that sounds like a firecracker and smoke,” but no students were injured nor does there appear to have been property damage. At the suggestion of Florida Assistant State Attorney Tammy Glotfelty and after her science teacher said she had not sanctioned the experiment, the responding officer arrested Wilmot and charged her with possessing or discharging weapons or firearms at a school sponsored event or on school property and possessing any destructive devices — both felonies she would have been tried for as an adult. Pursuant to her school’s zero tolerance policy, Wilmot was also expelled at the time of the incident.
But last week the criminal charges against Wilmot were dropped following significant media coverage and an online petition that attracted nearly 200,000 signatures, upset that the arrest was the equivalent of criminalizing curiosity. She remains banned from her school, but her family is in discussions with the administration about a possible reinstatement.
Wilmot’s story caught the eye of Homer Hickam, an 18-year NASA veteran and author of the memoir “Rocket Boys,” later adapted into the film “October Sky.” Hickman had his own brush with law enforcement during his teens. Hickman and several friends were led away from his high school in handcuffs for allegedly starting a forest fire, but his physics teacher and principal cleared him of wrongdoing.
Hickam said he “couldn’t let this go without doing something,” and while he’s not a lawyer, he could at least “give her something that would encourage her” and settled on purchasing her a scholarship to the United States Space Academy, a five-day college accredited course offered through the University of Alabama-Huntsville. After learning Wilmot has a twin sister, he raised additional funds so they could attend together in July.
While Hickam attended school long before the advent of zero tolerance policies, since then kids who make mistakes have increasingly faced criminal charges for what amount to disciplinary violations, particularly minority students like Wilmot.