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Florida Teen Charged With Felony After Science Experiment Goes Bad (miaminewtimes.com)
345 points by comex 1490 days ago | hide | past | web | 245 comments | favorite

Expulsion? Seriously? I am grasping at straws here but since it's Florida is it possible she is "the wrong color" ? Would another kid just get a suspension at best? Horrible to be thinking that way.

Did she have prior issues? If there were prior issues with warnings/suspensions, yeah I could see expulsion. If first time ever in trouble, there is something else going on here. perfect behavior record seems to suggest no priors.

added: apparently this is an institutionalized system she was just shoved into, please read the link in this comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5636788

Expulsion? Seriously? I am grasping at straws here but since it's Florida is it possible she is the wrong color? Would another kid just get a suspension at best?

Here's one reference point:


MIT students' pyrotechnics fun caused five people to suffer chemical burns (including three paramedics treating the first two). They were punished with community service and fines.

Another reference point, though in a different state:


"The "Kids for cash" scandal unfolded in 2008 over judicial kickbacks at the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. Two judges, President Judge Mark Ciavarella and Senior Judge Michael Conahan, were accused of accepting money from Robert Mericle, builder of two private, for-profit juvenile facilities, in return for contracting with the facilities and imposing harsh sentences on juveniles brought before their courts to increase the number of inmates in the detention centers.

For example, Ciavarella sentenced children to extended stays in juvenile detention for offenses as minimal as mocking a principal on Myspace, trespassing in a vacant building, and shoplifting DVDs from Wal-mart."

Not saying this is what happened here, but a plausible hypothesis.

Despicable, and I suspect not that rare.

If I were the sentencing judge I'd add every sentence given by those judges to the kids, double it and make all involved serve them. With no parole. In general population.

Ciavalla lost his pension and is serving 28 years in jail. He'll be out when he's 85, with no pension. I feel very little sympathy for him.

Zero tolerance rules: most schools have had them for a long time now. Anything that explodes is a weapon, and weapons on school grounds are an automatic expulsion.

And this is why zero tolerance rules are despicable.

Not because they were enforced in this case, but because of the countless times they were probably threatened and not enforced. These rules don't enforce justice, they leave justice up to the arbitrary will of an administrator.

My school has a rule that states "If a phone is seen out, you will get 20 lunch detentions." And yet most of the teachers do not enforce the rule. In fact, here I am typing a response on Hacker News. Yet if a teacher were to not like me, he/she could single out me and only me and give me lunch detentions. This may only be a simple example, but it scales all the way up to serious offenses and the higher level administrators as well.

"You seem like a nice kid, I'll let you off this time"

It becomes even worse when bias and prejudice are involved.

This is the way police states operate - ridiculously strict laws that are only laxly enforced. In such a system, the enforcers (not lawmakers) have inordinate power to punish or reward people as they see fit.

Working for a tyrant, I learned the cliche "ambiguous rules, ruthlessly enforced".

I believe laws are best wielded against people you don't like.

There are so many laws, so broad, so contradictory, every one of us is doing something wrong at any point in time.

So enforcement is just a matter of choosing how to punishing your enemies.

Equally despicable are rules so vague that a mishap can be treated as a criminal act. Carmen Ortiz would approve.

So if a kid put a mentos in his soda at lunch, that's an expulsion?

Possibly, if any kind of administrator dares call it an explosion. I'm not in favor of zero-tolerance policies either, just acknowledging how common they've become. Packing a metal butter knife in a lunch box can lead to expulsion these days (it's happened several times, and made the news each time).

What about farting in the playground? That's a small gaseous explosion, expulsion?

Lets have preschoolers who throw Lego thrown in jail while we're about it.

Honestly, this "zero tolerance" just ruins lives. You've just taken an A grade student who could be contributing to society and possibly put them into a life of poverty and disadvantage. That's great for society.

I agree. The law cannot be applied word by word. If we start doing that each one of us is committing some crime every minute.

> each one of us is committing some crime every minute

This statement is actually not absurd. Well, actually, it is an absurdity, but it's also an accurate description of reality.

I was reading a comment by someone (I believe a law professor and criminal defense lawyer) who rode along with a highway patrolman in the US. They played a game, where the officer would follow a car, and the officer would win if he could name a legitimate traffic offense committed by the car, for which he could pull the driver over if he was so inclined.

The officer won every time, usually within well under a mile.

There are so many laws, and they are so complex, that just about anyone is probably guilty of something if you just look hard enough. Only the thin paper shield of the Constitution (in particular 4th and 5th amendments) is about the only thing that stands between just about anybody in the US and prison.

For more, see this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

Soda cans and farts are not the same thing as ammonia and bleach and drain cleaner being mixed together in a container. Those are serious acids and bases. And these analogies are crap.

No, the analogies are spot on.

Anything in the preceding comments which seems ridiculous has been introduced by the concept of "zero tolerance", which precludes common sense.

Zero means zero. If the rules are enforced as written - arguably as intended - this is what you get. The preceding comments just take the concept to its logical conclusion.

You miss the point. Sure, the girl should have been punished. The issue is the degree. Her intent seems pure, it should have been taken into account!

Plastic knife also count, my friend got suspensed from school for bringing that.

Ouch. Maybe now all our dishes and utensils can be small discs.

Made of pleather.

Might be used to choke someone! Stick to trenchers.

A trencher could be a pretty effective blunt instrument. Intubation is appropriately American these days.

Better yet, go Indian, eat with your hands.

Hey hands are among the deadliest of instruments! oO;

> made the news each time

Really? Citation needed, I think.

Impossible. You could only cite cases where it did, not where it didn't.

Or you could give personal witness of seeing a case that did not make it on the news. But no citation.

Ooooohohohohoho you would SO get expelled for that, since it's a much more violent reaction than what happened here. K-12 schools are largely totally unreasonable organizations run by completely unreasonable individuals who wouldn't make it in the real world.

There's more to it than that.

Let's assume just for the sake of argument that every actor from their own perspective is reasonable.

The problem is that a small group of parents are at the top of the "food chain." These parents are self-selected and therefore have a more overbearing personality (i.e. helicopter parents) than average.

So these parents sit in PTA meetings or similar and pass more and more rules based on the latest moral panic (e.g. guns, knives, hairstyles, video games, healthy food, etc). They aren't trying to strike a "balance" to find what is reasonable they're trying to keep the kids safe even at the cost of everything and everyone else.

Now you might say "but isn't the principal in charge?!" well, no, not really. I mean the principal is in charge of certain things but if they fail to keep the PTA happy they will be replaced by someone who will. Child safety (as the PTA will spin it) is one of those areas where principals have very little freedom.

With this specific incident in mind, even if the principal AND the teachers thought it was crazy to both exclude and arrest her, they might have effectively zero say in the matter.

Exactly. A lot of people have no idea how it really works -- the "noisy" members of the community have a lot of control over how things are run since they can have someone fired/impeached for not kowtowing to every crazy knee-jerk demand.

Having done the mentos "experiment" after lunch in middle school, I can confidently say it was not classified as an explosion.

We did have to miss out on recess the next day thou...

That was then... Most of the stuff we did as kids would get my son locked up or doped up (often both) today.

Typically expulsion requires a review and vote by the county school board (at least that's how it works where I grew up). My dad was on the school board and had to review a few ridiculous cases like a kid who brought a pocket knife, or another who brought a flask of alcohol to prom.

Stupid, draconian laws enforced by ridiculous school administrators. Zero-tolerance laws are illogical because they make an attempt to pass-off guilt, logic, and responsibility by simply saying "perform any act bordering on this description and we have no choice but to come down on you with this one-size-fits all penalty."

They are willing to screw up a kid's life because they are unwilling to use logic. Bringing a gun into a classroom != having a pocket knife in the center console of your car, but they are treated as if they are the same act.

They had best get rid of the microwaves in the teachers' lounge. Cooking your soup on high too long can result in an explosion of steam sending flying fragments of meat and potatoes all over!

And he better not dare eat pop rocks to go along with it!

Zero tolerance for common sense as well. Why think when it's easier to hide behind the rules?

Fear of lawsuit when the truly unpredictable occurs, I imagine. Again, not justifying the mandatory application of this policy.

If you set out to create an explosion. If this is a complete accident how is this an expulsion-worthy offense?

> I am grasping at straws here but since it's Florida is it possible she is "the wrong color" ?

You are right.

This was not an over-reaction of a reported explosive device (made with caustic acids and bases - maybe a mix of bleach, ammonia, drain cleaner, etc) going off on school grounds in this climate of fear after the Boston bombings.

This can be more easily explained away by the hate and bigotry brewing in this white school and this white police force. I mean, they are white, she is not. Nothing more to say here.

P.S., nothing is likely to come of this once the facts are brought up in court... http://www.wtsp.com/news/topstories/article/312750/250/Stude...

There are 300MM people in this country, things like this will happen regardless of your race and color.

I'm guessing you don't have a material Anglo-Saxon genetic pedigree, right? Way to whip-out the race card with no details deeper than: 1) explosion 2) arrest 3) school photo.

Your conjecture is an embarrassment to this community.

The comment you are replying to was obvious irony. Everything before the P.S. was pure sarcasm, and everything after the P.S. is a further indication of this fact.

Maybe you meant to reply to the GP?

Expulsion isn't really the worst of it, either. Because this is Florida, if she was convicted of a felony she would lose her right to vote.


Imagine losing your right to vote, forever, because of this incident.

Expulsion is nothing compared to a felony charge.

The charges may well get dropped when cooler heads prevail. The expulsion, I'm guessing, won't be, which is shameful. Ruining a kid's life because she put some chemicals in a bottle and didn't hurt anyone is heinous.

Cooler heads prevailing in Florida? I live in the deep south, I would be seriously concerned if I were her.

I actually had the same thought, but decided I was just being unfairly regionlist. I'll continue to hold my judgement on that count.

Everyone needs to be taught about jury nullification for cases like this.

I wonder how hard it would be to write a bot that would search twitter for people mentioning they've been summoned for Jury Duty and send them a tweet about Jury Nullification?

Just grabbed https://twitter.com/NullifyByJury, and did a search that suggests a steady stream of jurors: https://twitter.com/search?q=jury%20duty&src=typd.

Let's do it?

Actually, there must be some legal issues here... anyone willing to advise?

I think the courts don't like it at all. (http://www.activistpost.com/2013/02/jury-nullification-activ...). Please do it but also please speak with an actual lawyer first.

My understanding of jury nullification is that it applies to a different scenario, typically that of when the jurors share the sentiment that the law the defendant is accused of violating is unjust (or is being unjustly applied). I don't feel like looking up the exact phrasing of the laws pertaining to "possession/discharge of a weapon on school grounds and discharging a destructive device" in florida, but I would guess they mention intent, or culpability [1]. So unless it comes to light that she was aware the chemical mixture she used would create an explosion, I think the charges will be dismissed or she will be acquitted by jury, without having to apply jury nullification.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culpability

Yes I think you are right.

But also, my thinking is that recently the US seems to want to trample down many "criminals" for basically downloading things that someone regrets them downloading. I worry about a future where DA's are overzealous about going after people without any mens rea and/or well after the victims of a crime have expressed no interest in continuing the case. Since, in the US, jails are intended to punish instead of rehabilitate and having a felony conviction takes away many of your rights I think they need to be far more careful who they level charges against.

Possession of "weapons" charges are in the jurisdiction I reside in strict liability, no intent to use them needs to be shown just the actus rea of possession is sufficient. [Claimed] Ignorance of the nature of the weapon is not a valid defence.

I know practically nothing of the charges or pertinent laws here mind you.

One of the biggest issues with the justice system is that many criminals never get as far as the jury. They're told that they can accept a plea bargain and spend a few years in jail, or face a jury and in all likelihood be sentenced to decades.

Good point. Everyone needs to be taught about plea bargaining, too, but maybe we need some way to prevent the DA from piling on ridiculous charges.

Especially considering in America that's nearly equivalent to losing your citizenship.

Well it will be pled down to misdemeanor and juvenile record will be sealed, but yeah that pretty much ruins job applications.

How exactly would a sealed juvenile record affect job applications? They don't show up on any criminal background inquiry that companies have access to. Police and government (i.e., clearance or priors), yes. Juvenile charges are practically thrown out by everybody, minus things that require clearance or sensitivity. Regardless, the article says she's going to be tried as an adult, which means it's an adult charge. It'll stick, but...

Even an American adult, in most states, can make a felony disappear with some effort and the cooperation of the convicting judge. In other states, it becomes a charge but no conviction is recorded from the company's perspective, so you can say "no, I've never been convicted of a felony."

(I'm a felon with extensive experience in this area.)

As far as I know, employers aren't prevented from using Google?

Nobody does. I promise. My conviction made lots of news as well; has never come up since I got it expunged.

Typical BigCos get a standard background on you (these are measured in dozens of dollars), and any further investigation that involves a human being is reserved for a very, very rare candidate. HR and operations are expensive at scale.

Since everybody rational considers this news item ridiculous, I think we can safely say this girl will be alright. The expulsion is the thing she'll have to work around, but even a felony conviction is not a life-ender. Many companies specifically hire felons because they're a tax break if filed properly.

"Nobody does. I promise."

Entirely false.

Except if you have the misfortune of being convicted in New York State, which does not expunge or seal even misdemeanor records any amount of time after conviction, you're literally branded for life with it.

I've heard stories of employers using Google, but seems to me any company that did that would be opening itself up to a bunch of lawsuits. There are plenty of things you're not allowed to ask about at interviews because they are potentially discriminatory (for instance, asking candidates - particularly women - if they plan to have children), but you could potentially discover this information from a Google search.

That's why you contract out with a binary pass fail, and/or search for red flags, so the 3rd party replies if the dude is clean or perhaps mentions some areas requiring further study.

I can't be the only one here to have passed this process. I've done it a couple times. This vaguely resembles my military security clearance some decades ago in that my Army CO never had any idea I got picked up by the cops for truancy after skipping out of gym class in my sophomore high school year, but the clearance guy knew, didn't really care (I mean, come on, really?), and issued my clearance and that credential is good enough for my CO not to personally investigate my police record.

Needless to say the pass fail criteria provided to the 3rd party doesn't include things like "Is the candidate a jew?". They ARE often dumb, but not that dumb.

Usually it involves a lot of verification of resume "facts" like if the candidate claims no criminal record but a simple glance at a public facebook feed shows all manner of talk about his extensive time in jail, the red flag gets raised. No need to tell the company what church he attends, just warn them to take a second (first?) look at the criminal background report.

That is what happened in my case: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=5637272

There wasn't a news article about me so I don't have to worry about being Googled. I do feel bad for the girl because of that. However, so far employers have found my story amusing so I'm convinced that high school hijinks affect job prospects terribly.

So, let me get this straight: this girl was theoretically exploring science, and as a result, was admonished and forcibly removed from the one thing meant to inspire and represent education and learning.

Maybe "real life" immediate consequences but I can't help a strong sense of frustration at the "system" even more than sympathy for this one individual given the irony.

The thing is, they're not real life consequences. They're totally artificial consequences, established by the school without adequate rational basis. You could do this basically anywhere but a school, and nothing would happen to you (think fireworks). And there's no serious safety issue here (e.g.: what are the chances this happens again, regardless of the punishment?). It's not at all about safety; it's about the establishment of authority.

How Kafkaesque is that? "We made these rules just so that we can punish you if you don't follow them!"

Mixing ammonia and bleach is actually quite dangerous, and regularly warned against in most chemistry classes. Calling this an "experiment" is generous at best.

That's interesting I assumed either baking soda and vinegar or soda and some mentos or the classic yet much more hazardous drain cleaner and aluminum foil. I assumed that with the "war on some drugs" and just being practical, that they were not talking about iodine and ammonia. And if it involved flame like the classic "flour dust in the air" emulation of a grain elevator having a bad day, they would have freaked out about possession of the lighter. And if it was the classic "just stuff some dry ice in a bottle and run" they wouldn't have talked about mixing stuff because its just one thing. Maybe the old alka-seltzer tablet in water trick. The point being that there's about 100 ways to make a mostly harmless little chemical firework. Add a thin layer of theater to pretend that folks don't know this and its not all over the internet and if we just pretend not to talk about it, it'll never happen, just like the same morons think works with respect to homosexuality, or premarital straight sex, or atheism, or any number of topics that some morons often don't like.

There's really two issues. The first is the hard core fascist way of thinking where anything not compulsory is forbidden and anything not forbidden is compulsory, so her mistake was doing anything on school grounds with even a minute quantity of creativity. School is the place where human spirit is intentionally by design ground down, turn them into uncreative uneducated automatons so they can appreciate tightening bolts on the factory assembly line for 12 hours a day. Oh wait that's been obsolete for decades. Oh well who cares there's money to be made doing it and metric goals to achieve and tests to teach to.

The second failure mode is its really pretty stupid, just generally speaking, to randomly mix stuff together, and randomly screwing around mixing stuff isn't chemistry, so lets be honest about what really happened, she read about how to blow stuff up in a fun mostly harmless manner and thought it would be fun to try at school, and it worked and was safe, but she got caught. Its mostly harmless so rather than convicting her of some kind of terrorism felony they showed some mercy (or the police properly and rightly told the school to F off) so her story is being rewritten with lots of randomness added. There may be some interaction with profound ignorance of chemistry on all sides of the story from the kid on up.

Where did you get that she mixed ammonia and bleach? The article just states "household chemicals"

I'm waiting to hear what she really mixed. If it was baking soda and vinegar this is ridiculous. If it was a strong acid and aluminum or bleach and ammonia, I could maybe understand this level of reaction.

Even then, there's no reported evidence of criminal intent...and she's being charged with a felony, yes?

They won't need to show mens rea (criminal intent) because it will never go to trial. They'll beat her over the head with the potential of a felony conviction until she agrees to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge. It would be great to see a decent defense lawyer pick this case up and take it to trial.

Could have been baking soda and vinegar.

Last line in the article since it has been updated: "We've also obtained the police report from the incident. It shows that Wilmot was mixing toilet bowl cleaner and aluminum foil."

Link to police report: http://www.scribd.com/doc/138927259/Wilmot-Arrest

TBH, The only way expulsion is going to be justified is if they also punish the teachers and the principal for not providing the oversight to make sure these chemicals were not available to the kid to do this experiment in the first place. And even then I'd say the adults in charge are the ones that should be punished for this.

If the kid brought these chemicals to school to conduct the experiment, then I would definitely venture that there is fault with the kid here, but hardly felony territory and questionable expulsion territory. It really depends on the severity of the incident and the amount of prior knowledge the kid had about the safety. The severity should take into account both the size of the explosion and whether or not students and teachers were at risk when this experiment was conducted. Most kids who know something might be a bit dangerous or uncertain at least have the common sense to conduct these experiments in places where people are unlikely to experience bodily harm. Everyone I knew as a kid that did something like this (including myself) knew enough to guess the maximum magnitude of potential damage and made sure to conduct such experiments far enough from others. When you hear about kids playing with hardcore stuff like a homemade pipe bomb, it's usually a rural or suburban kid that goes way out into the woods to conduct their experiments. When it is something minor like strapping a bunch of Estes model rocket engines together and lighting them, they know enough to have everyone stand far enough back and behind cover before starting the fuse for the experiment. Expulsion really is only merited if humans were actually legitimately at risk.

They don't need to have knowledge of the experiment to be culpable, just knowledge that these chemicals were made available without adult supervision. Lab/chemical safety is no joke and I would bet that it was lax or non-existent oversight of these chemicals that prompted this. Kids will be kids. They have limited knowledge of the consequences of their actions, especially when chemistry is involved.

The best situation is one where chemistry can be taught safely in schools by teachers with enough knowledge and good sense to provide a safe environment. The next best alternative is to provide a limited subset of chemistry equipment and chemicals that cannot cause an explosion or serious harm, but still provide educational value. Only when neither of those two conditions can be met, should you remove lab chemistry from an educational environment. This is certainly not desirable, but still better than providing an unsafe environment for chemistry.

>adults in charge are the ones that should be punished for this. //

She's 16, she's not a child.

> "Kiera Wilmot got good grades and had a perfect behavior record."

What is wrong with this world? It's understandable that this was dangerous, but they just destroyed this girl's future. First of all, they released her name to the public, second of all, this was a first offence, third, this wasn't an intentional bombing. It literally says, it was a science experiment gone wrong.

Immediately citing racism as the reason for her punishment isn't grasping at straws, it's ignorant.

Did you read the part where she was creating _explosives_ on school property? Especially within two weeks of a major bombing involving household materials!?

You're right. We should definitely sacrifice our principles, our values, our educational institutions, and our childrens' lives in response to fear.

Think of the children!

Oh please, household chemicals have serious potential to react violently. Her intention was clearly to make something go bang. She was punished for it, maybe excessively, but immediately claiming racism is ridiculous.

> Her intention was clearly to make something go bang.

That is an allegation, what's your evidence? She enjoys the privilege of assumption of innocence as well as a trial, yet you've rushed to judgment based on what?

> rushed to judgement

I suppose based on the fact the kid mixed chemicals and sealed the chamber? I've done the same, multiple times. Never was I surprised at the result.

I suppose OP could be correct and my racist views led me to believe her intentions were the same as mine when it was me mixing chemicals and sealing the chamber, somehow I doubt it.

Ignorant? You're going to say someone else is ignorant while comparing some mild gas expansion in a closed bottle to devices designed to maim and kill. It's almost like, why am I even writing this comment...

Technically the "device designed to maim and kill" also had a gas expansion inside of a closed vessel.

I am just making this post to point out that what she was doing COULD have been dangerous or fatal, it just wasn't.

Fortunately plastic containers will fail long before the buildup of pressure becomes too powerful. But in general, that kind of explosion does and can kill.

It's to do with intention. Even if she were to set off an explosion she'd not be guilty unless it were intentional and meant to hurt people.

The most she deserves in this case is a rap on the knuckle. I'd say not even that - maybe a gentle talking to - "be inquisitive, explore ... but be a little more careful."

So does a shaken up bottle of champagne. COULD that be dangerous or fatal? Story at 11.

The intent of opening and consuming a champagne bottle is different from the intent of mixing explosive chemicals in a sealed chamber, at a public school. I imagine if a child brought a champagne bottle to a school cafeteria, shook it up and threw it there would be significant consequences as well. Regardless of race.

Nowhere did I compare the two. Simply stating that event is very recent and would have an impact on the perception of the child making an explosive.

What is ignorant is the fact that reddit/hn is willing to completely ignore the fact that the intent was to mix chemicals and make an explosive device. Ask any school administrator if a student of any race would be punished for that.

Look at it from an administrators perspective, they are legally obligated to maintain a safe environment for children. If another student was injured it would be their job/income/family on the line.

That's a very good comment.

But I'd like to know what chemicals were in the bottle before going too far into a conversation on this, as that defines how dangerous her experiment was. There are certain household chemicals that you do not want to see in a reaction that generates a small explosion and smoke. Some that will burn the lungs severely or cause blindness.

I'm not sure why you're being downvoted.

I doubt it was a decision based on race. She's obviously a "good" kid, and the cops and admin know it.

What's bullshit is that she was doing a very low-risk "experiment". It doesn't really sound like a real experiment, just a curious kid trying something out. Or at worst, the kind of harmless prank everyone used to do. But it was harmless, and she was probably just doing it for fun, or because she was curious.

Mixing random household chemicals without knowing what they'll do?

Oh, I have no doubt she was just trying something out, but it's hardly guaranteed to be harmless. Worst case, you might mix something like bleach and ammonia, and kill half the school.

Can't tell without further details, but the fact that she was surprised is scary. I wouldn't expel her, though, just give her a long and serious talking-to.

"Worst case, you might mix something like bleach and ammonia, and kill half the school."

Wow, alarmist much? Two seconds of googling suggests that it makes chloramine, which isn't exactly mustard gas ( http://chemistry.about.com/od/toxicchemicals/a/Mixing-Bleach... ).

As for not knowing what the mixture will do--well, there's a really obvious way to find out, right? We're all about TDD here.

>Worst case, you might mix something like bleach and ammonia, and kill half the school.

No way would that kill half the school. Might hospitalize some people in the room, but that's the worst realistic scenario.

> She's obviously a "good" kid, and the cops and admin know it.

The school officials might know it, but I'm not so sure about the cops. It seems she was expelled due to the school system's zero tolerance policy. What about the felony charges? That was a separate decision by the cops or the District Attorney. I doubt violating a school policy requires the filing of criminal charges.

Well, any school administrator can level charges against you if they see fit. I once had a charge of "Disturbing Schools" for telling a vice principal to "piss off" (albeit with more vulgar wording) in her office.

Most school administrators, in my experience at least, seem to be zealots and jump at the chance to put students "in their place".

You should check the "dictionary".

She could have very well mixed vinegar and baking soda and sealed the result in a weak bottle. Given the right amount of each ingredient, this mixture would "explode".

So how many weeks after a major bombing would it become OK to do that?

I hope she didn't use more than 4 ounces of chemicals otherwise it would be a WMD:


You're kind of stretching the truth here. There really isn't a limit as to how much explosive material can be contained in a stationary "bomb" before it's considered a WMD because the definition itself takes in account intention of use.

The Wikipedia article cites the FBI's definition of a WMD, which includes rockets that contain more than 4 ounces of propellant. For comparison, an Estes D size rocket engine is less than a single ounce (~0.8oz). It also states that any rocket with an incendiary charge of more than one quarter ounce is a WMD, but if you actually read the statute and not Wikipedia's summary you'll read that the charge has to be a known explosive substance like C4 or ANFO, not something silly like Draino and aluminum foil or dry ice in a plastic bottle, unless there is a clear intention of causing harm, injury or death. Here's a video of 10 grams of C4, which is about a third of an ounce: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdhuR2rJJIU

These definitions of a WMD aren't that crazy.

I think it's pretty crazy that the term WMD is used for devices of that scale.

Wait, 4 ounces makes it a weapon of mass destruction? That is....ridiculous.

4 oz of botulism or some hemorrhagic flu is most CERTAINLY a weapon of mass destruction.

I can only imagine someone with evil enough intent to put a canister like that in one of those Glade "bathroom smelly" devices. In a public restroom, you'd be spreading death.

4 oz is ridiculous overkill for direct infection of certain diseases at the same time it's not enough explosives to harm much more than one room. It's a pretty useless threshold to have.

"She made a bad choice."

Jesus. No, this interested student made what, to any scientist in the history of the world, would have to be considered a good choice - mix some stuff and see what happens, outdoors and well away from anybody.

This is the new American culture of fear. It's what will ruin America - is already doing so.

Bad as this is for the girl, it's dramatic overexaggeration to say that this is "ruining America." If anything actually ruins America it would be economic depression, major war decimating generations, internal strife or massive crime waves, installation of a dictator, pandemics, etc. And if you think kids were not being subjected to intensely unfair suppression in the 30s then you may be a bit naive.

Kids were allowed to discover things in the 30s - yeah, allowed to die, too, if they were poor. But you cannot have a creative culture if you're scared to death of all risk.

America's edge has always been due to risk-takers, and we're doing our damndest never to expose our kids to the least bit of risk, to the point now, as in this case, of explicit criminalization of risk-takers. And if you think that's not going to ruin what I remember as being a pretty kick-ass nation, then I'm not the naive one. I can only assume you don't have kids in school at the moment, or your kids have an exceptional school.

No, those things won't destroy America as all of those examples can be worked around and America can be rebuild.

But the people who have to rebuild her are people like the girl here - and without those people there may be a bunch of buildings in the geographical area that was once North America, but it will not be worthy of America.

Most of the things mentioned are things that have destroyed large and established civilizations in the past. It seems unwisely dismissive to just say the United States could just "rebuild" from one of those things. Keep in mind he/she doesn't specifically mention that any of those things are currently happening in the United States.

Yeah but those places weren't America, they were just a place.

America is special, because it was founded by people who wanted to be free, not founded by some warlords who wanted to rule over others. There is a France today because some people conquered and area and set themself up to rule. Should France be destroyed, then that will be the end of it.

Should America be destroyed, even to the point where the land that is America is just radioactive wasteland, then it can be refounded anywhere else: the Russian steppes, the island of Malta, the moon. All that are required is the idea of freedom.

But ideas can and will die if they are not nurtured by people who believe in them. This girl could have grown up to strengthen America, but now she will instead learn that thinking is dangerous, that curiosity should be oppressed, that blind obedience is the only thing that will keep you safe, that questions are treason.

And that can destroy America.

America is special, because it was founded by people who wanted to be free, not founded by some warlords who wanted to rule over others

America was founded by people who wanted to be free, including the freedom to rule over the others they kept as slaves.

Well, yeah, in Version 1.0, but we included a change request process, too.

Wow, the Chosen Nation much? Nations have been rebuilt thriving ages and it is not something unique. Take Poland for example. The country was gone for 123 years, yet it is back, catching up to the European level. There's nothing "special" about your country, sorry to break it to you. Yes, it still is powerful on global scale, but keep doing what you are doing and you won't be for long. I live in Europe and stuff I hear about that goes on in the US makes me stop and wonder.

Several decades ago, in a Galaxy not very far away, a high school student mentioned to his friend that he had an M-80 he'd stashed in his locker for a while, and it was time to do something with it.

The firework was lit and tossed into one of the steel barrels used as garbage containers on campus. The two walked down the hall, noted the several seconds of absolute silence which settled over campus following the blast, and walked into the classroom of a teacher they both had, which was generally open during lunch. The teacher looked at both of them, shook his head and said, "Gentlemen..." with a slight smile.

One of the students retyped spirit copier forms (this was several decades ago) for a teacher following lunch. The typewriter used sat in the vestibule to the principle's office. He listened that hour while the yard patrol supervisor and secretary discussed "the bomb" which had gone off, as the faint smell of burned garbage wafted through the building. That day's work had more than the usual share of errors.

Nothing more ever came of it.

My, how the world has changed.

So... a few friends and I were discussing what would happen if we lit the gas tap in the science lab. We were 11-12 and I think I had just seen an episode of Bottom with a lit gas pipe. We were strangely unattended in a science lab that day.

I turned on the tap and a friend lit it. Queue a rather cool jet of flame in the middle of the room. Teacher I guess saw the glow coming from the room. Turned it off.

Received bollocking like none other and a 2 day suspension to underline the seriousness of this.

Notably we were not accused of either arson or trying to blow up the school. Youthful - unacceptable - misadventure.

As usual there aren't any facts on what this girl was doing. On the surface though it seems expulsion and criminal action is way over the top.

I made gun cotton as part of a 6th year Chemistry project (this is Scotland where we had strange exams) - I was making a variety of early plastics and we had a lab and access to the chemicals store with hardly any supervision.

When the Head of Chemistry found out he called me an idiot, got me to go to the groundsmans store and get a spade and go and bury the gun cotton somewhere.

Then there was the time I wasn't paying attention when I went to get some sulphuric acid from the store and was doing something and wondering "why is this acid viscous and why are things getting so hot?".

Probably wise that I didn't do Chemistry at University.

We used to fill pencil cases up with gas and squirt across a bunsen burner when no-one was looking. Worse you'd get would be a dentention.

Does no one blow into a gas tap to extinguish all the lit bunsens in the lab these days?

A lot of school labs only stock hot plates these days ;o(

Well, considering during hunting season - 30% of the vehicles on Friday had rifles in them at my school. To the point, where teachers and students were comparing guns at lunch[1].

[edit] I did try to get some sodium to throw in water, but that didn't work.

yep, times have changed.

This is one of those consequences of treating students like sub-humans up to the time something goes wrong and then they are "charged as adults". I am betting some of this is a teacher and principal trying to CYA for a situation that they didn't control or teach very well.

1) I did learn to spin a butterfly knife during school, that probably was a bit far even then

To me, she is almost the perfect kid. She is curious, proactive and resourceful. What more could she be?

I really, really hate to conclude this, let alone say so in public, but I think the answer to my question is: "white".

If she were my student, I'd have her back after school, under decent supervision, to see what else she want to blow up, or to put it the proper way, experimental with. Hell, use it to kick of the most inspirational after school chemistry club ever.

Man, what are these people thinking? So sad, a child's natural curiosity becomes criminal. That should never ever happen.

Reminds me of child hackers who end up in the clutches of the law. The whole thing is perverse and absurd.

Yup. "Sorry, but we're going to have to punish you by having you stay after school. In the lab. While you help us make highly exothermic reactions. Safely. For science."


> what are these people thinking?

Due to humanity's tribal history, people have a propensity to think of things in an "us vs them" situation. The other, the alien, the enemy. It's why people readily look for someone different to blame: Hitler could blame the Jews (Godwin's law FTW!), Marx could blame the rich, and blacks and whites can continue to blame each other.

She's a genius. (A black genius to boot, I'm given to understand.) Not one of us, not something familiar. So it's not hard to view her as both a threat, and not human in the same way that people you know are human. Because most of the people you know don't do things like this. (Where by "you" I mean "a random US person," not "a random HN reader." And by "genius" I mean "the average person's perception of someone who mixes together chemicals and makes them blow up," not "the legitimate inferences that can be made about her cognitive abilities based solely on the fact that she performed this particular science experiment.")

Add to that the zero-tolerance policies which may actually say in black and white that she needs to be punished to the fullest extent of the law, the racial undercurrents which may mean that too many of those involved view the situation in literally black and white, ...

Of course, AFAIK zero-tolerance rules started to become popular after the Columbine high school massacre. So they were intended to protect the community's children from dying in a hail of bullets.

For the federal prosecutor, it's just another day, another felony conviction, another varmint pelt on the wall to advance your career.

This is what they're thinking.

Using police and criminal courts to enforce school rules is a well known problem in the US. It destroys lives and seems to be doing nothing to improve behaviour.

Calling it a 'science experiment gone wrong' is perhaps a bit disingenuous. Had she written down anything about methodology or expected results or any 'chemistry words' at all? Or had she just seen something on YouTube and decided to have a go? Still, this kind of youthful experimentation should be guided into safer forms, and not crushed under the boots of law enforcement.

Knowing several teachers, it's not surprising that schools use the the police and courts to deal with kids. I would say parents started it first and ruined it for everyone else. Schools are afraid of being sued, so it is easier and safer for them (legally) to use police/courts to deal with child disiplinary issues.

One if my friends was complaining about the % of their school budget that is set aside for dealing with legal issues (being sued by parents). That is money not being used to teach kids.

We really need to return more power to teachers and school administrators so they can do their jobs without the legal system. But to do that, they need some basic legal protection.

The irony is that school is essentially an institution which allows you to outsource your child's education, and--to a lesser extent--their discipline. Yet because parents have complained so much about the disciplinary actions of schools in the past few decades, American schools now outsource the major discipline to the police. From a financial and risk minimization perspective, schools are behaving rationally, but parents and police are not.

I was really shocked to learn that most US secondary schools ("K12") have a police officer in them and if you get into trouble the police officer will literally come and "arrest" you.

I don't even know where to start pointing out what is wrong with THAT...

The US is a massively policed society. As an Australia, I expect to see a police car about once a month. In France, where I have lived for the last 10 years, it might be more like 1-2 times a week. In the US (based on a few weeks holidays that included rural/small town/big cities), I saw multiple police cars every day. I saw two violent arrests in those few weeks, which was the same as I had seen in my life up to that point.

Now maybe I was just unlucky, but Washington DC, and rural Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania are hardly considered hotspots of trouble (well, maybe DC, but I was in the nice parts of town!)

School is meant to prepare them for adulthood and the odds that an American will go to prison are relatively high.

Not really.

> the odds that an American will go to prison are relatively high.


That "relatively" is important.

(In 2009)

    US:     743 per 100,000 
    Russia: 577 per 100,000
    China:  120 per 100,000
    Canada: 117 per 100,000

Compared to other countries the chances of an American going to prison are higher, even though the chances overall are quite low.

It is if you are black and male.

The large number of Americans in jail are pretty irrelevant to ~you~ and your friends/family not being in jail.

It's quite sad really. Even the most minor infractions will have the police officer(s) (oftentimes multiple) coming after you. These infractions can range from decorating someone's locker (vandalism) to voicing unorthodox opinions.

what opinions?

Here's a uniform dispute, with an NRA t-shirt:



It's difficult to know what happened, but something like a child wears an NRA t-shirt to school; people ask him to change it; he refuses; the discipline escalates; police are called.

The HuffPo article says something about a disruption. Usually children are disruptive because the adult in the situation allows them to be disruptive. Ignore the shirt and there's no disruption. Ask him to leave the class and there's no disruption. (I'm not sure of the situation. Maybe he's standing on the desks and yelling about his First Amendment Rights. (And maybe if he wrote a 1,000 word essay on the first amendment and how it protects speech and why Americans love it so much the school may chose to relax the punishment.)

I understand that there may be times when schools need to call the police. A child with a weapon is capable of killing; a child breaking criminal laws needs to be dealt with.

But, assuming this child stayed calm during the sequence, I can't understand why the police are involved.

If I'd had my house or car burgled and I read this I'd be pretty annoyed that police were spending time on this stuff and not actual crimes.

This EXACT same thing happened to me. I had some liquid Nitrogen for a science experiment at school, put it in a 20oz Coke bottle. Of course that's not something you do without knowing mostly what will happen, as I suspect was also the case with this girl. I took it to the bathroom (somewhere with no objects or people to damage) and it exploded, making a bit of noise.

I was expelled and charged with the same sorts of felony charges - constructing a bomb, detonating a bomb at a school, etc. With a small bit of lawyering the charges were reduced to one count of misdemeanor disorderly conduct for making a loud noise. For that I was able to get "diversion" (like a lighter form of probation for juveniles), just some community service and drug testing, and could have my record sealed at 18. I was not, however, able to successfully appeal my expulsion.

I hope that this girl will be able to get a similar outcome and not end up as a felon because of this silliness.

This was in the middle of my 10th grade year. My next two and a half years doing home schooling and at the only private school in the city that would take me were terrific, I am very glad my life took a turn the way it did.

It's great that your parents had money for "lawyering" and "private school"! It would have sucked otherwise, no?

Yep, it used up most of what they had set aside for college though, which contributed in large part to my not finishing college, but that is something I am also glad turned out the way it did.

So... I must ask you... are you, what america would consider, "African american" or of african descent?

No, I am not, I am very white and nerdy.

I am surprised at how much of the discussion here has focused on race and racism. I don't see that being a factor here; this is simply how public schools in America work.

I did not, however, have a perfect disciplinary record; I had been suspended a couple times for "hacking" type activity.

Well, IMHO, this story is about racism. I've read too many stories on african americans ending up with criminal records for things I've seen non-african americans do without consequence. Also, I have a similar experience with chemistry class in high school. While a white kid burned holes, dropped chemicals he had no business messing with, and other moderate damage to school property more than 5 times, _in front of everyone including the teacher_. I did one thing, that didn't endager anyone, didn't break anything. I booted up an old AppleII computer and played music on it(the bubble-bobble invincibility theme music I coded in BASIC)..... ended up in the priciple's office for "tampering with chemistry class computer system". This computer wasn't doing anything; it was covered in dust. Mom & I went to the principle and, as it turns out, the principle totally tore up the write-up from my chemistry teacher in front of us, then she said "Don't worry about it. I know that teacher of yours. This isn't going on any records. It ends here." She was white, in case that impacts this little story of mine. Chemistry teacher was a white male. And my parents were born & raised in Nigeria.

I'm sorry that you had that unfair experience. However, the same story could have happened if you were white (it's very very common for some people to be more disliked by a teacher than others, or less good at concealing their actions - resulting in selective enforcement), but then you wouldn't have white racism to blame for the unfairness of it, and no basis on which to get public sympathy. That kind of thing occurs for many reasons and no reason, all the time.

So, indeed this can happen if you're white - as shown by the person I was just replying to. Let's go with that for a moment: The nasty gotcha-part of this is that while it may or may not happen completely randomly with no particular concentration on minorities, the way out of the situation is not equally accessible. Since minorities tend to have less financial resources(for reasons we'll avoid talking about right now), they're much less likely to have a lawyer like psutor's parents had. If both me & him got a felony charge thrown at us, he'd get out of it. I don't think my parents could afford a lawyer at that time. This is kind of an important element. Even if whites & blacks get charged with the same frequency(and I don't believe that), the chances of the white(or asian) family having the money to get a lawyer to fight are much higher. Kinda like how kids of rich families can kill people in a drunk driving incident and get away with little consequence. Money and race have an impact on the how severe your punishment will be for a particular crime and even the probability that your crime will be reported in the first place.

You are surprised at how much the discussion has focused on race? You must be somewhat sheltered. I am white and nerdy and a relative new comer to the United States and not particularly interested in race issues but even I know that race disparities in both arrests and incarcerations are huge. Black females are imprisoned 3 times as much as white females, and make that 6 times for black males. Do you really think that this girl has the same chances as if she were white?

Blind comparison of imprisonment rates is misleading when you ignore confounding variables like income, geographic distribution, parental age and marital status.

Step 1. Send black teens to courts twice as often as white teens.

Step 2. Pass them through to adult courts twice as often as white teens.

Step 3. Keep them in prisons 60% longer for the same crimes.

Step 4. Use big words like "confounding variables" to pretend that it's complicated.




Contact her and offer her your help.

Ok, what she did was something stupid, but remember, how many times good scientists have failed like this, this is actually thinking out of the box, no one was in the vicinity, she was clearly not using this to hurt anyone, the intention was clear here, a OUT-OF-BOX experiment, she was sure no one would give her the go, since it might have been as per her judgement, on the line of safety. So what? if it went bad? If it had went good, you all be calling her a genius or something! Expulsion from the school? This is ridiculous! At max suspend her for a week, so she thinks it through, her parents should sue this school, if nothing, for causing a good kid such trauma, a good student gets devastated by a expulsion, cause it sticks, on her hard work.

No wonder we asians are talking up the good jobs in America, if this is the policy for such out-of-box thinking.

If I had done that, ten people would have asked my well being here in India, and at max, I would have had to pay the cost of destruction, and later, me and my friends would laugh it off, since its pretty badass.. blown up the roof pfft!

India is a country of apathy. Nobody really cares till they are directly affected. Even if they are - like you blew up someone's wall with your "experiment", or hit a car with your bike, etc, there is not really a lot you can do about it. I have also personally seen cases where accidents with deaths got little to no punishments.

I am not saying what happened to this teen was right. But you can't compare that with India.

PS: Of course I am Indian living in India.

>"No wonder we asians are talking up the good jobs in America, if this is the policy for such out-of-box thinking." I don't feel that race is relevant here.

race is not, but educational background is. India & China are producing more graduates, post graduates, then any other country in the world. This is a known fact.

In absolute terms or per capita? They are (by quite a wide margin) the most populous countries in the world.

Well, India has a millionaire population the same size as the entire United Kingdom. But that still leaves over a billion in poverty.

The general impression of asian schools is that they don't exactly produce out of box thinkers though.

Gordon Moore used to mix chemicals and make explosions when he was a boy. He even lost part of hearing due to his "experiments".

You might know him better as a founder of Intel, or the guy that "Moore's Law" is named after. If he had grown up in today's society, he'd be a felon and Intel wouldn't exist.

I worry about what we might be losing when we don't allow children to experiment.

> I worry what we might be losing when we don't allow children to experiment

Totally agreed. I can hear her in my head saying this: "Well that's the last time I experiment with anything new. I learned my lesson."

And that makes me sad.

I read this, and if this story is anywhere near accurate, I can only wonder what the hell is wrong with adults today.

What is wrong with administrators, and what is wrong with prosecutors?

And where are the lawyers working pro-bono to defend her? And where are the other parents in the school to demand the school do the right thing?

I am appalled and saddened by the crap we force today's youths and young adults to put up with.

Zero tolerance has to go.

"I read this, and if this story is anywhere near accurate, I can only wonder what the hell is wrong with adults today."

There are likely a number of factors but the worst seems to be that they are scared to death by the mainstream media on a nearly daily basis. Fear sells.

"Could a couple of common household chemicals kill your family slowly and painfully if mixed incorrectly by a high school student? Tune in at 11 to find out."

See also "With Police in Schools, More Children in Court" [1] in the New York Times.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/12/education/with-police-in-s...

I really hate tinfoil, but sometimes I read things like this and just get a bit worried:


Even at the level of "Well, they just needed a contractor and look who shows up", this sort of thing is deeply disturbing.

There's no conspiracy, the prison industrials also handle school security.

omg that is horrifying - everyone needs to read the wikipedia article linked above

So many lives ruined before even becoming teenagers.

Where are their lobbyists?

Dear lord that is depressing, even more so this article linked to from wikipedia:http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2012/August/12-crt-993.html


The department’s investigation showed that the agencies have helped to operate a school-to-prison pipeline whereby children arrested in local schools become entangled in a cycle of incarceration without substantive and procedural protections required by the U.S. Constitution. The department’s findings show that children in Lauderdale County have been routinely and repeatedly incarcerated for allegedly committing school disciplinary infractions and are punished disproportionately, without constitutionally required procedural safeguards. Children have also been arrested at school for offenses as minor as defiance. Furthermore, children on probation are routinely arrested and incarcerated for allegedly violating their probation by committing minor school infractions, such as dress code violations, which result in suspensions. The department’s investigation showed that students most affected by this system are African-American children and children with disabilities.

"Where are their lobbyists?"

Where's their money? (AKA "speech").

Another source: http://www.wtsp.com/news/topstories/article/312750/250/Stude...

According to this report, she brought the bottles of chemicals from home to the school at 7AM (likely before first classes), where she mixed them and caused the explosion. Not quite the same as mixing the wrong vials in chem lab without permission.

It says she brought A bottle and then mixed the ingredients. God knows what actually happened, but the journalist certainly isn't giving an accurate depiction.

Yes, if anything the fact that she brought the chemicals from home makes the case even less serious - chemicals brought from home aren't all that likely to be dangerous, whereas chemistry labs can have some unpleasant chemicals in them.

Do you have bleach in your cupboard? Maybe ammonia? :-)

To be fair, most children are told very early never to mix those.

She will be tried as an adult? That's ridiculous, even if she was being intentionally malicious (Which I don't really believe). How do they determine whether to try kids as adults in america?

If the statistics are to be believed race and gender and age, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trial_as_an_adult#Demographics

on a totally off-topic note the next paragraph is quite funny:

"Advocates for the abolition of juvenile court Critics of the juvenile court argue that the definitions of childhood and adolescence that were used to establish the first juvenile courts in America are no longer equivalent to the definitions of childhood and adolescence today. These critics state that the boundary between juvenile and adult is no longer as clear, as children appear to grow up faster, with more exposure to adult ideas, and as adults more often engage in juvenile behaviors and activities."

That's quite a charge against 21yo drinking limit, but I don't imagine the same person using the same arguments in both contexts...

Drinking age, handgun ownership age, age of consent,cigarette smoking age have all moved up to either 18 or 21.

As has the age for working in the mines.

Yeah, the question I keep asking myself is, "what possible scenario could _possibly_ be a better case for charging this kid as a child?"

Someone says "I think we need to try her as an adult, given the seriousness of the incident."

(no. really. That's all it takes.)

In this report from 2008, black students in Florida were two and a half times more likely to be arrested, referred to court, and waived to adult courts:


In particular, black Florida youth were almost twice as likely to be referred to adult courts as white youth.

I knew about DWB (driving while black) but apparently, LWB (learning while black) is a "thing" too:



A study [...] reports that black students, although they made up just 30% of the population of Miami-Dade County public schools in 2000-01, accounted for half the school arrests in that district.

Nothing says "victory for terrorism" more eloquently that this disgraceful overreaction, triggered by fear and hysteria.

Such overreactions also occurred in the 80s and 90s.

This is ridiculous! At our school we were over enthusiastic with a thermite experiment that burnt through the workbench, the floor and into the room below - with no consequences for anyone involved (though the teacher probably never ran that experiment again).

I expect I would have been charged with WMD possession in the States?


Only if you're poor and/or black. If you're able to attend private school, or a public school in an affluent district, you'd be fine. The rules are applied very differently depending on what social class you belong to.

I know exactly the kind of mindset it takes to do 'experiments' like this: Clever, mischievous, inquisitive, questioning, maybe even a little defiant but not malicious. Never malicious. Authorities don't understand that knowledge and experience isn't inherently evil. If you want to prevent events like what happened in Boston, you can't do it through the policing and control of knowledge. It's impossible! I'm a girl like this girl, I had a perfect record in high school, but still (to this day!) enjoy learning about how the universe works through explosions and experiments and hands on demonstrations of half-formed understandings, because it's the best way to learn! Doing this kind of thing at school was probably a bad call. But hell, I made dry ice bombs in the football field with my physics club in 2001, and it was seriously the most fun I ever had on school property. I get this fear sometimes, a fear I call 'afraid-to-science', when I'm doing something really interesting but that could be potentially dangerous, I feel it even when I've taken all possible safety precautions, even when I know my rights, because we are all criminals sometimes if portrayed in the wrong light. If the powers-that-be decide to shine the wrong spotlight on you. Just like this girl is getting the full brunt of now...Anyway. I would also be interested in contributing to a defense fund for Kiera Wilmot. Always be learning, girl. Learning is the most worthwhile thing you can do, never stop.

Even if the girl practiced poor judgement, it's obvious she was not malicious. it's remarkable how the US has become completely intolerant to people making mistakes.

So according to the article we have a girl with good grades and behavior doing something stupid which did not cause any damage or hurt anyone. Her punishment for this is expulsion and trial as adult?

Agree. I guess they (the school) really fear that this could be a repetitive trend and they want to crush it by throwing the expulsion in for her. It is unfortunate because - like you said - she doesn't seem malicious.

So... what were the chemicals involved? Article is very vague.

Some stuff is obviously more dangerous than others.

I think putting baking soda and vinegar into a bottle and then closing it. Coke and menthos is also a possibility, but the article speaks about 'household chemicals', not candy and fizzy drink...

A sensationalist tabloid in the UK might well call candy ( sweets UK) and fizzy drinks "house hold chemicals" to ramp up the "evil" factor.

Frankly I am please to see the word "terror" hasn't been weaved in just yet.

For my high school physics group project we built a 20 foot air compressor powered potato cannon. We got a few good shots off across the football field before one of the joints failed spectacularly. Fortunately no one was injured, aside from some temporary hearing loss.

I have no idea why they let us do that, and I'm pretty sure we got an A, but this is absurdly on the other end of possible reactions.

Is there a "defense fund" to contribute to? Any other constructive actions to suggest?

Cant some science favouring educational establishment give her a scholarship?

First rule of organic chemistry - if you mix something organic with enough nitric acid in the presence of enough sulphuric acid to use as a catalyst chances of getting something that can blow up in your hands are high.

And it is something not worthy of felony charge. The message that is sent is terrible.

When I was in middle school, I had a few science teachers who would actually show us how to make bombs during experiments. We made and set off a few dry ice bombs, and at one point we were mixing chemicals and our teacher said "watch this" and proceeded to mix something with something else which set off an explosion similar to a shotgun blast, shattering the test tube holding the mixture - much to the excitement of us students. What a great way to demonstrate the laws of thermodynamics! I am now in college studying biochemistry, in part because of the lessons I learned early on that science can be fun.

The paranoia that is gripping this country is absurd and intellectually stifling. The reaction to this student's behavior should be guided encouragement, not knee-jerk punishment.

This is sad. In my youth, I bursted hundreds of soda bottles. It is amazing how much noise it makes (similar to a shotgun), but it is harmless. Sometimes I would explode them with toilet bowl cleaner and foil, but my all time favorite was exploding one at the dinner table. I was trying to make seltzer with dry ice and water. My parents were not amused, but thank god I didn't try that at school.

That's definitely what it was from the description - household chemicals in a plastic bottle that went boom and gave off smoke.

This guy here makes a very good argument that it is a reaction and not an explosion under ATF guidelines defining how strong something has to be to be an explosion:


He also notes that 2Al + 3H2SO4 -> 3H2 + Al2(SO4)3 is not on the prohibited list of reactions that are federally impermissible without a license.

In response to mob / crowd politics and mentality (heavily driven by the tort problems, fear of lawsuits), America has become a lazy nation that does what's expedient to shut the most people up and 'resolve' a situation. That by default tends to drift toward harsh penalties, since the draconian level of the punishment favors what the squeakiest wheel in the mob wants.

If you want to fix the drift toward criminalization of trivial things, get some heavy momentum going on tort reform. Sooner the better.

Wow! Just, wow! I have to agree that there is quite a good likelihood that this is only a felony ... to be tried as an adult ... let that sink in for a second or two ... because she is black. We all know it. And I say that as a very fortunate, white, male that realizes how the world works. It's sad, sad and pathetic, and sadistic; as our society it dominated by sadistic values.

For some reason I just don't believe the article as written. I suspect she took the chemicals without any permission, and the "experiment" was more in line with "oooo, chemicals, lets mix them together randomly".

If the part about the good grades and perfect record are true: Why would a student in good standing do something like that maliciously? It doesn't fit the "profile" of a good student.

Fireworks are simultaneously "malicious" and "awe-inspiring".

Similarly, drano bombs are "dangerous" and "exciting".

I believe it was more like "wanna see something cool? I'll make this cap fly to the roof". Like Menthos + Coke on steroids.

Seems the "science experiment" part was just a cheap excuse, to try to get a free pass. Ironically, it may have made it worse for her..

I did similar things as a kid, just not in school. Bad judgement, but expelled from school and facing trial is just ridiculous.

If my kids were in that school, I'd seriously consider moving.

Even if that's all she did, it doesn't warrant an expulsion or a felony charge.

If that's the case then I agree - but since I don't trust the article, I have no way of knowing what really happened.

I agree that the article seems biased; however, it's hard to think of an alternative situation that should lead to a felony charge.

No priors, no known intent to actually blow something up, and no one was hurt. This can't be handled in school and not require the police and courts?

The school to prison pipeline continues...

Can we start a Hacker News Scholarship Fund for her or something? I'm in for a couple hundred $...

Why are these school administrators even drawing a salary if they cannot or will not exercise their judgment in carrying out their duties?

> She will be tried as an adult.

I don't know much about US law, but how tf could this be even possible?!

When i went to 8th grade (in Sweden) we did an experiment in chemistry class where we would put a tiny bit of Sodium into a bowl of water to see it fizzle about (reacting with the water), all students where allowed to carry out this on our own. However a group of student (unaware of the possible consequences) took a chunk of sodium and put it in the water, violent reaction of course which left mark in the ceiling and glass everywhere. Nothing came out of this other than quite a long talk about dangers in chemistry and so on.

This seems like a textbook case of why zero-tolerance rules are terrible.

I don't think there is enough information in this article to be making judgement calls.

Is there any organization that advocates for the repeal of zero tolerance policies in schools?

This has been going on for a long time and it is ridiculous.

So much for criminal intent. I mixed all kinds of crap together to see what would happen when I was a kid. Glad I didn't grow up here!

All children must be broken. Especially the smart and ambitious ones.

I'm developing "zero tolerance" for the morons infesting and increasingly apparently driving the decisions of our society.

If you're making anything but meth in Florida you must be punished.

This is insane... anyone have links to petitions or anything like that? I feel like I should do something...

This sounds like the toiletbowl cleaner + aluminum foil in a sealed 20 oz or 2liter bottle "experiments" I would do as a kid. I blew up a lot of bottles back then lol, it was so much fun. But quite toxic to breathe, so had to exercise more common sense than a rock.

This is bad. kids are supposed to experiment. If it goes bad, so what? The law seems to be too dumb here. Her intention is to not kill anyone or damage anything. Intention is to experiment something. Why would she be expelled and put in jail for that?

The type of bottle in question can be seen in this video: http://www.wtsp.com/news/reporter/article/312878/79/Teen-gir...

Words fail me! The top of that flimsy little bottle would pop off if she filled it with grape juice and shook hard. "Possession of a weapon" indeed!

Give her a college scholarship. If she were on the football team, they'd sweep it under the rug.

Seems a bit harsh, eh?

Only in America ....

Of course, Britain never had anything so outrageous happen in it.

Welcome to the circus my friend.

Where we require a constant supply of freaks and side show accidents, of clowns and strongmen to feed the show of 3rd rate tabloids. And remember, any circus can only have one director in his impeccable top hat shouting down to the audience, not more and not less.

That is bad justice

Obviously, the solution is to ban science.

There must be more to this than what Maimi New Times is reporting. When I was in school half the kids in science class were constantly scheming on how to get their hands on chemicals to mix them, heat them and generally be irresponsible.

Edit: I suspect she stole the chemicals and/or this was a repeat offense.

>Edit: I suspect she stole the chemicals and/or this was a repeat offense.

There are no grounds to suspect such, the article says "Kiera Wilmot got good grades and had a perfect behavior record.". It's more reasonable to assume that this reaction is a result of the increased fear that recent bombings and school shootings have brought about.

My immediate reaction to seeing the multiple occurrences of "She must have done something to deserve it." in this thread was "Because, Racism!".

But on second thought, it's probably just the reflexive servility of the average american. The "authorities" charged her with something, so they must be right.

Bah, I mean, what's one more black girl driven to a life of marginalization and petty crime because she was too inquisitive; after all. She wasn't the first, she won't be the last; the system is supposed to divert people like her into career paths appropriate to her social status; in this case, curiosity about vinegar and baking soda means that meth cook is her only viable career choice; because it's not like she could learn enough to be an actual chemist or anything...

This country is FCKD, if we are wasting the potential intellectual capacity of our young, like we are here.

"if we are wasting the potential intellectual capacity of our young"

What if we have more capacity that we can use? WRT to half of STEM grad not working in STEM and all that. You don't need a chemist at the local factory anymore when the factory moves to China.

The other thing is its a balance. Destroy an innocent life, vs the school administrators saved the school from terrorism, the prosecute saved the public from terrorism, the profitable prison industrial complex will make money off her...

"Something awful happened to someone, they must have done something to deserve it" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Just-world_hypothesis

It's such a common bias. And we all suffer from it.

Yeah, maybe this is going to far, but you're an ass. The article specifically mentions, in the first goddamn sentence, that she has good grades and a perfect record. My guess is that you think she is a thief and a repeat offender based on prejudice due to her race.

Wow, so I am both an ass and a racist because I expressed my opinion that I think there is more to the story that was reported, despite me saying that when I was at school this was common place (inferring that I don't think her alleged "crime" is a crime at all). Suddenly the media are perfect and without spin.

I don't judge people based on their race, gender or sexual identity. You on the other hand seem quick to jump to accusing people of racism. You either view the world through a race-based lens or maybe you just play the race card to rack up your (impressive) HN karma.

Perhaps we can lay that and any similar suspicions to rest:


"She is a good kid," said principal Ron Pritchard. "She has never been in trouble before. Ever."

I'm not sure if that should matter. I got picked up for truancy one time. Therefore in comparison I should get the death penalty.

Seems irrelevant unless it directly relates to the situation (perhaps they yelled at her, then they wrote her up, then they yelled at her parents, then a suspension, then the fifth time she did the same exact harmless thing they called the FBI/CIA/NSA/Blackwater on her)

It's probably worth noting, as someone who lives in Miami, that the New Times is considered closer to a tabloid than a reputable journal. I can't speak for this particular article, but I would not be surprised if there were editorializing substantially.

It's an alt-weekly. Not really tabloid, but definitely covers local issues that the mainstream papers wouldn't.

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