DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Two teenage students were killed Monday and a man was seriously injured in what police say was a shooting at a training program designed to protect at-risk youth. The injured man was identified as the founder of the program – a rapper who left a life of gangs and violence and dedicated himself to helping young people in Des Moines.
Police said Monday that a man was charged with the shooting, and two other people were taken into custody. 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 program. He was also accused of participating in a terrorist attack.
Officials said the shooting was the result of an ongoing conflict between gangs. Police said Walls was on parole for weapons and had removed the muzzle detector 16 minutes before the shooting.
“The incident was targeted. It was not random. There was nothing random about it,” Sgt. Paul Parizek said.
Two Des Moines youths, an 18-year-old male and a 16-year-old male, were killed. William Holmes – the 49-year-old rapper who started the program with the stage name Will Keeps – was injured and underwent surgery on Monday evening.
Police said Walls and all three victims were at the school on Monday when Walls entered the area where Holmes and the two students were. Walls had a 9mm handgun with a long magazine in his hand, police said, although they did not say whether he was displaying the weapon.
Holmes tried to escort Walls away from the scene, but Walls left, “pulled a gun and started shooting at all the teenagers,” police said. Holmes stood nearby and was shot, then Walls fled, police said.
Responding officers observed a suspicious vehicle leaving the scene. The police stopped the car. But Walls fled and was arrested a short time later. Police said a 9mm handgun was found nearby. The bullet magazine – which has a capacity of 31 rounds – had three.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said the people in Walls’ car were teenagers.
“This brings five families of young people affected by youth gun violence in a matter of minutes on Monday afternoon, where our headquarters are,” Cownie said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “This is a growing and alarming phenomenon in our country, and we have seen it many times in the past and today in the city of Des Moines.”
Cownie held a moment of silence for the victims. He said he spoke to their relatives. But there is little they can say that will ease their pain. Nothing can be said to bring them back, who were killed senselessly,” he said.
Fences have not yet arrived in court. It was not known if he had a lawyer to represent him.
Police say emergency responders were called to the school, which is located in a business district, just before 1 p.m. Police arrived to find two students seriously injured, and began CPR immediately, but the two students died at the hospital.
Start Right Here is an educational program that serves at-risk youth in grades 9-12 and is affiliated with the Des Moines school district.
“The school is designed to be boring and to help the kids who need the most help,” Parizek said.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership, an economic and community development organization for the area, says on its website that Keeps came to Des Moines about 20 years ago from Chicago, where he “lived in a world of crime and violence” before finding healing through music. .
The agreement states that Starts Right Here “aims to inspire and educate young people living in disadvantaged and oppressive environments through arts, entertainment, music, hip hop and other programs. It also teaches financial skills and helps students prepare for job interviews and improve skills. The main goal is to overcome the obstacles of fear, fear and other destructive factors that cause a person to become depressed, forgetful and rejected.
According to the program’s website, one of Keeps’ songs, “Wake Up Iowa,” sends the message that “violence and hatred are not the way of Iowa, and instead, we must learn from the mistakes of other cities, that the end will be destroyed by violence and crime.”
The school’s website says 70 percent of its students are minorities, and it has graduated 28 since it began in 2021. The school’s administration says the program serves 40 to 50 students at any one time. The government said no government workers were at the site at the time.
Interim Superintendent Matt Smith said in a statement: “We are saddened to hear of another act of gun violence, especially one that involves an organization that works with some of our students. We are still waiting for more information, but our thoughts are with all those affected by this incident and their families and friends. “
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who serves on the 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 hard Will Keeps and his staff work to help at-risk children through alternative education,” Reynolds said in a statement. “My heart breaks for them, these kids and their families.”
Nicole Krantz said her office near the school was locked shortly after the shooting, and she saw someone running from the building with police on foot and in patrol cars.
“We just saw a lot of police cars coming out of everywhere,” Krantz told the Des Moines Register. “It’s scary. We all have worries. We went into lockdown, obviously. We were all told not to look out the windows because we didn’t know if he would catch the boy,”
The shooting was the sixth school shooting in the U.S. this year in which someone was injured or killed, but the first was a fatal shooting, 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 another shooting outside a Des Moines high school last March, one student was killed and two other teenagers were seriously injured. Ten people – who were all between the ages of 14 and 18 at the time of the shooting – were later charged. Five of them pleaded guilty to various 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 story.