RIVERTON –The young pageant winner charged with tossing homemade "bottle bombs" from a moving car said she and her friends made a "silly mistake" that has now left them facing both criminal and personal consequences.
In an exclusive interview Tuesday with KSL-TV and the Deseret News, Miss Riverton Kendra Gill said she is resigning her title nearly two weeks after her arrest on suspicion of throwing the incendiary devices.
“Given the circumstances, I guess you could say, that we’re in right now, I just thought that it would be best for the city of Riverton and all the people affected by our decision and my choice, to just step down and resign from my position and let someone else take it from here,” Gill said.
Gill, 18, was arrested Aug. 2 along with three other 18-year-olds, Bryce Christopher Stone of Riverton, John Patrick Reagh of Draper, and Shanna Marie Smith of Bluffdale and formally charged Friday with four counts of possession of an explosive device, all second-degree felonies.
For Gill, the Riverton pageant and crown was a chance at a scholarship, a stepping stone to college. And she said she worked hard to get there.
“It was just like a lot of my hard work has paid off, and it was just an awesome experience to know that I worked so hard for something and was able to earn that,” she said.
But then a decision on a summer night changed her future.
“It was a silly mistake that we obviously didn't think through what we were about to do and what we did do," she said. "So, yeah, it was a stupid mistake on our part.”
Attorney Wally Bugden said Gill and her friends set out to complete a high school prank, far from the claims of near terrorism or malicious intent. Bugden said it’s a case that should not have a felony attached to it.
The devices were 8-ounce bottles with toilet bowl cleaning liquid inside, she said. Bugden said the 18-year-olds were tossing the bottles out of the car and watching them hit the pavement and burst. They never aimed a bottle at anyone, he said.
“You could say it’s possible that the chemical could splash on someone, but that certainly was not their intention,” Bugden said. “They weren’t trying to harm anyone. They were playing a prank.”
And no one was harmed, he said.
Gill said she decided on her own to step down as Miss Riverton because she didn’t feel like there was any other decision to make.
“I just (knew) I would probably have to get it taken away from me, just because of the contract," she said. "So I’d rather have it be my decision now than to have someone take it from me.”
Gill said stepping down was one of the hardest decisions she's ever made.
“It was pretty difficult because I have worked so hard for it. But I know there are other girls out there that can do equally as good of a job, and I’m not worried about that at all."
Gill said she and the others in the car that night are all good friends.
Bugden described the four as honor students who recently graduated from Riverton High School, young adults who have ever been in trouble before.
“We didn’t think about what we were doing at the time," gill said. "We didn’t know that it would get to this point. We meant for it to be a practical joke and never had any intentions to harm anyone at all.”
Gill said she understands that people were scared when the bottles exploded. She has heard some of the 911 calls that came in on the night of Aug. 2.
“I probably would have been equally scared as them, but I didn’t really think about how they probably did think we were trying to throw them at them,” she said. “We never did. We never threw it at people.”
Gill's attorney said part of the reason the case is getting so much attention is because of her title as Miss Riverton.
“Kendra is a lovely person who became Miss Riverton, and now it’s being almost held against her that she held that title, and that she did something that was foolish,” Bugden said.
Gill said she looks at her mistake as a learning experience.
“I do believe this whole thing is a way to help us grow and to learn from our mistakes and to move forward and just kind of get on with our lives,” she said.
The Gill family's Riverton home is adorned with flowers from friends and family. Her parents, Gavin and Michelle Gill, said they believe their daughter will become a better person by experiencing the consequences of her actions.
I think with all that she’s been going through, it’s hard to get mad at her because her intention was never to hurt anybody,” Michelle Gill said.
Gavin Gill acknowledges that bad choices were made but said he couldn’t be more proud of his daughter and the things she’s accomplished in her life.
Now, the family is waiting to see what will happen in court.
“I’m confident that the legal system will handle it correctly, and the people that understand the facts of what’s going on and the character of all four of the youngsters that are involved in this will see this and handle it appropriately,” Gavin Gill said.
Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc
Copyright 2016, Deseret News Publishing Company