DES MOINES, Iowa — Two teenage students were killed Monday and a man critically injured in what police said was a targeted shooting at an alternative education program designed to keep at-risk youth out of trouble. The injured man was identified as the founder of the program, a rapper who left a life of gangs and violence and has dedicated himself to helping the youth of Des Moines.
Police said Monday that a man had been charged with the shooting and that two other people remained in custody. Preston Walls, 18, of Des Moines, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for shooting at the Starts Right Here program. He was also accused of participation in criminal gangs.
Authorities said the shooting was the result of an ongoing gang dispute. Police said Walls was on supervised release on a weapons charge and had removed the monitor from his ankle 16 minutes before the shooting.
“The incident was definitely a target. It was not random. There was nothing random about this,” said Sgt. Paul Parizek said.
Two Des Moines teenagers, an 18-year-old man and a 16-year-old man, were killed. William Holmes, a 49-year-old rapper who founded the show and goes by the name Will Keeps, was injured and underwent surgery Monday night.
Police said Walls and the three victims were at school Monday when Walls entered a common area where Holmes and the two students were. Walls had a 9mm pistol with an extended ammunition clip in his possession, police said, though they did not specify whether he was displaying the weapon.
Holmes tried to escort Walls out of the area, but Walls stepped away, “pulled out his gun and began shooting at the two teenage victims,” police said in a statement. Holmes was standing nearby and was also shot, then Walls ran away, police said.
Responding officers saw a suspicious vehicle leaving the area. The agents stopped the vehicle. But Walls got away and was arrested a short time later. Police said a 9mm pistol was found nearby. The ammunition magazine, which has a capacity of 31 rounds, contained three.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said the people in the vehicle with Walls are also teenagers.
“That brings a total of five families of teens affected by youth gun violence in a matter of minutes on a Monday afternoon, right here in our capital city,” Cownie said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “This is a growing and alarming phenomenon in our country, and we have seen it all too often in the past and again today in the city of Des Moines.”
Cownie observed a moment of silence for the victims. He said that he spoke with his relatives. “But there is little you can say to lessen your pain. Nothing can be said to bring them back, the ones who were senselessly killed,” she said.
Walls has yet to make a court appearance. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney to speak on his behalf.
Police said emergency crews were called to the school, which is located in a business park, just before 1 p.m. Officers arrived to find two critically injured students and immediately began CPR, but the two students they died in a hospital.
Starts Right Here is an educational program serving at-risk youth in grades 9-12 and is affiliated with the Des Moines School District.
“The school is designed to take over and help the kids who need it most,” Parizek said.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the region’s community and economic development organization, says on its website that Keeps came to Des Moines about 20 years ago from Chicago, where he “lived in a world of gangs and violence” before finding the healing through music. .
The association said the Starts Right Here movement “seeks to encourage and educate young people living in disadvantaged and oppressive circumstances using the arts, entertainment, music, hip hop and other programming. She also teaches financial literacy and helps students prepare for job interviews and improve their communication skills. The ultimate goal is to break down the barriers of fear, intimidation, and other damaging factors that lead to a sense of disenfranchisement, neglect, and rejection.”
According to the show’s website, one of Keeps’ songs, “Wake Up Iowa,” sends the message that “violence and hate are not the Iowa way and instead we must learn from the mistakes of other cities, lest they end up being devastated by violence and crime.”
The school’s website says that 70% of the students it serves are minorities, and it has had 28 graduates since it began in 2021. The school district said the program serves between 40 and 50 students at any given time. . The district said no district employees were on site at the time of the shooting.
Acting Superintendent Matt Smith said in a statement: “We are saddened to learn of yet another act of gun violence, especially one involving an organization that works closely with some of our students. We are still waiting to learn more details, but our thoughts are with the victims of this incident and their families and friends.”
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who serves on a Starts Right Here advisory board, said she was “shocked and saddened to learn of 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 hard Will Keeps and his staff work to help at-risk children through this alternative education program,” Reynolds said in a statement. “My heart breaks for them, these children and their families.”
Nicole Krantz said her office near the school was locked up immediately after the shooting, and she saw someone running out of the building with police chasing on foot and in patrol cars.
“We just saw a lot of police cars coming in from all over the place,” Krantz told the Des Moines Record. “It’s frightening. We are all worried. We were locked up, obviously. We were all told to stay away from the windows because we weren’t sure if they got the guy.”
The shooting was the sixth at a school in the US this year in which someone was injured or killed, but the first with fatalities, according to Education Week, which tracks school shootings. The website said there were 51 school shootings last year involving injuries or deaths, and there have been 150 since 2018. In the worst school shooting last year, 21 people were killed at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
In a separate shooting outside a Des Moines high school last March, a student was killed and two other teens were seriously injured. Ten people, who were between the ages of 14 and 18 at the time of the shooting, were later charged. Five of them have pleaded guilty to various charges associated with the shooting.
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