DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) – Two teenage students were killed Monday and a man seriously injured in what police said was a shooting at an alternative education program designed to keep at-risk youth out of trouble. The injured man has been identified as the program’s founder – a rapper who left a life of gangs and violence and dedicates himself to helping young people in Des Moines.
Police said on Monday that a man had been charged with the shooting and two others remained in custody. Preston Walls, 18, of Des Moines, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder for the Starts Right Here shooting. He was also accused of participation in criminal gangs.
Authorities said the shooting was the result of a dispute between gangs. Police said Walls was at liberty supervised by a weapons charge and had removed his ankle monitor 16 minutes before the shooting.
“The incident was definitely targeted. It wasn’t random. There was nothing random about it,” said Sgt. said Paul Parizek.
Two Des Moines teenagers, an 18-year-old male and a 16-year-old male, were killed. William Holmes – a 49-year-old rapper who founded the show and goes by the stage name Will Keeps – was injured and underwent surgery on Monday night.
Police said Walls and the three victims were at the school on Monday when Walls entered a common area where Holmes and the two students were. Walls had a 9mm pistol with an extended clip of ammunition in his possession, police said, although they did not specify whether he was displaying the weapon.
Holmes tried to escort Walls away from the area, but Walls turned away, “drawn his gun and started shooting at the two teenage victims,” police said in a statement. Holmes was nearby and was also shot, so Walls fled, police said.
Responding officers saw a suspicious vehicle leaving the area. The agents stopped the vehicle. But Walls fled and was arrested shortly afterwards. 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 were also teenagers.
“That brings a total of five teenage families affected by youth gun violence in a matter of minutes on 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 one that we have seen all too often in the past and again today in the city of Des Moines.”
Cownie held a minute of silence for the victims. He said he spoke with his family members. “But there is little that can be said to lessen your pain. Nothing that can be said to bring them back, those who were killed so senselessly,” he said.
Walls has yet to appear in court. It was not immediately clear whether he had a lawyer to speak on his behalf.
Police said emergency crews were called to the school, which is located in a commercial park, just before 1pm. Officers arrived to find two critically injured students and immediately began CPR, but both students died at a hospital.
Starts Right Here is an education program that helps at-risk youth in grades 9 through 12 and is affiliated with the Des Moines School District.
“The school is designed to compensate and help the children who need help the most,” Parizek said.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the region’s economic and community development organization, says 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” before finding a cure. through music. .
The partnership said the Starts Right Here movement “seeks to encourage and educate young people living in disadvantaged and oppressive circumstances using arts, entertainment, music, hip hop and other programs. It also teaches financial literacy and helps students prepare for job interviews and improve their communication skills. The ultimate goal is to break down barriers of fear, intimidation and other harmful factors that lead to a sense of disenfranchisement, forgetfulness and rejection.”
According to the show’s website, one of Keeps’ songs, “Wake Up Iowa,” sends a message that “violence and hate is not Iowa’s style, and instead we need to learn from the mistakes of other cities, so that they do not end up being plagued by violence and crime”.
The school’s website says 70% of the students it serves are minorities, and it has had 28 graduates since it began in 2021. The school district has said the program serves 40 to 50 students at any one time. The district said no district officials were on the scene at the time of the shooting.
Acting 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 hear more details, but our thoughts are with the victims of this incident and their families and friends.”
Governor Kim Reynolds, who sits on the advisory board of Starts Right Here, said she was “shocked and saddened to learn of the shooting”. Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert is featured on Starts Right Here, according to the show’s website.
“I’ve seen firsthand how hard Will Keeps and his team 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 closed immediately after the shooting, and she saw someone running from the building with police in pursuit 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 Register. “That’s scary. We’re all worried. We went into lockdown, obviously. We were all told to stay away from the windows because we weren’t sure if they got the guy,” he said.
The shooting was the sixth US school shooting 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 high school in Des Moines last March, one student was killed and two other teenagers were seriously injured. Ten people – aged between 14 and 18 at the time of the shooting – were subsequently indicted. Five of them pleaded guilty to various charges associated with 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.
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