DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Two teenage students were killed and a man was seriously injured Monday. The injured man has been identified as the program’s founder — a rapper who escaped a life of gangs and violence to help Des Moines youth.
One man has been charged in connection with the shooting and two others remain in custody, police said Monday. Preston Walls, 18, of Des Moines, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for the shooting at the Starts Right Here project. He was also charged with participating in a criminal gang.
Authorities said the shooting was the result of an ongoing gang dispute. Walls was released on supervised release on weapons charges and had his ankle monitor removed 16 minutes before the shooting, police said.
“This incident was definitely targeted. It wasn’t random. There was nothing random about it,” Sgt. Paul Parisek said.
Two Des Moines teens died, an 18-year-old male and a 16-year-old male. Rapper William Holmes, 49, who created the show and goes by the stage name Will Keeps, was injured and underwent surgery Monday night.
Police said Walls and all three victims were at the school on Monday when Walls entered the common area where Holmes and two students were. Police said Walls was holding a 9mm pistol with an extended magazine, though they did not specify whether he displayed the weapon.
Holmes attempted to escort Walls out of the area, but Walls pulled away, “drawn his pistol and began shooting at the two teenage victims,” police said in a statement. Holmes, who was standing nearby, was also shot before Walls fled, police said.
Officers saw a suspicious vehicle leaving the area. Police stopped the vehicle. But Walls fled and was arrested shortly after. Police said a 9mm pistol was found nearby. The 31-round magazine contains three.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Coney said the people who were in the same car as Walls were also teenagers.
“In a matter of minutes Monday afternoon, in our capital city, a total of five teenage families were affected by youth gun violence,” Coney said during a city council meeting on Monday. “This is a growing phenomenon in our state. It’s worrying, and we’ve seen it a lot in Des Moines in the past and today.”
Connie observed a moment of silence for the victims. He said he spoke to their families. “But there is hardly anyone who can say it will ease their pain. There is nothing that can be said to bring them back, people who were killed so senselessly,” he said.
Walls has yet to appear in court. It was not immediately clear whether he had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Emergency services were called to the school, which is located in a business park, just before 1 p.m., police said. Police arrived and found two students with serious injuries. They immediately started CPR, but the two students died in hospital.
Start Here is an educational program for at-risk youth in grades 9-12 that is part of the Des Moines School District.
“This school was designed to pick up the pieces and help the kids who need it the most,” Parizek said.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the area’s economic and community development organization, said on its website that Keeps came to Des Moines from Chicago about 20 years ago, where he “lived in a world of gangs and violence” and then sought cure.
The Partnership says the Starts Right Here campaign “aims to encourage and educate young people living in disadvantaged and oppressive situations using art, entertainment, music, hip-hop and other programming. It also teaches financial literacy, helps students prepare for job interviews and improves Their communication skills. The ultimate goal is to break down the barriers of fear, intimidation and other disruptive factors that lead to feelings of disenfranchisement, forgetfulness and rejection.”
According to the program’s website, one of the Keeps’ songs, “Wake Up Iowa,” has the message: “Violence and hatred are not the Iowa way, and instead we need to learn from the mistakes of other cities, so we don’t will eventually be ravaged by violence and crime.”
The school’s website says 70 percent of the students it serves are minorities, and it has graduated 28 since it opened in 2021. The district says the program serves 40 to 50 students at any one time. The district said no district employees were present at the time of the shooting.
Interim Superintendent Matt Smith said in a statement: “We are saddened to learn of another act of gun violence, especially one affecting an organization that works closely with some of our students. We are still waiting to learn more details, but we are in touch with Our thoughts are with all the victims of this incident, as well as their families and friends.”
Kim Reynolds, who serves on the governor’s Starts Right Here advisory board, said she was “shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting.” Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert is on the Starts Right Here board, according to the program’s website.
“I have seen firsthand how Will Keeps and his staff are working hard to help at-risk children through this alternative education program,” Reynolds said in a statement. “My heart goes out to them, these children and their families. broken.”
Nicole Krantz said her office near the school was cordoned off immediately after the shooting, and she saw people running from the building, followed by police on foot and in patrol cars.
“We just saw a lot of police cars pouring in from everywhere,” Kranz told the Des Moines Register. “It was horrible. We were all worried. Obviously, we went on lockdown. We were all told to stay out of the windows because we weren’t sure if they caught the guy,”
The shooting was the sixth incident at a U.S. school this year in which someone was injured or killed, but the first resulting in a fatality, according to Education Weekly, which tracks school shootings. There were 51 school shootings involving casualties last year and 150 since 2018, the website said.Last year’s deadliest school shooting left 21 dead An elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
Last March, a student was killed and two other teens were seriously injured in another shooting outside a high school in Des Moines. Ten people, all between the ages of 14 and 18 at the time of the shooting, have since been charged. Five of them have pleaded guilty to multiple charges related to the shooting.
Funk reported from Omaha, Nebraska. Associated Press writers Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri and Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas contributed to this report.