2 students dead, man injured in shooting at Starts Right Here charter school, police say

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Two teenage students were killed Monday and a man was seriously injured in what police said was a targeted shooting at an alternative education program designed to keep at-risk youth out of trouble, police said. The injured man has been identified as the founder of the program – a rapper who has left a life of violence behind and dedicated himself to helping young people in Des Moines.

Three people were arrested shortly after the shooting during the Starts Right Here education program, police said. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie identified the injured adult as William Holmes — who goes by the stage name Will Keeps — and said the victims and those arrested were all teenagers.

“It brings a total of five families of teenagers affected by youth gun violence here in our capital in minutes on a Monday afternoon,” Cownie said. “This is a growing and alarming phenomenon in our country, and we have seen it in the past and continue to see it too often in the city of Des Moines.”

Cownie held a moment of silence for the victims. He said he had spoken to their relatives. “But there is little that can be said that will ease their pain. Nothing that can be said to bring back those who have been so senselessly murdered.

Starts Right Here is an educational program affiliated with the Des Moines School District. Police said emergency services were called to the school, which is located in a business park, just before 1pm. Officers arrived to find two seriously injured students and immediately began CPR. Both students died in hospital. The adult, later identified as Keeps by the mayor, was in serious condition and police said he was in action Monday night.

About 20 minutes after the shooting, police officers stopped a car matching witnesses’ descriptions about 2 miles away and arrested three people. According to the police, a person fled from the car, but officers found him with a K-9.

“The incident was definitely targeted. It wasn’t random. There was nothing random about it,” said Sgt. says Paul Parisek. But he said the motive for the shooting was unknown.

The Starts Right Here program, which helps at-risk youth in grades 9-12, was founded in 2021 by Keeps.

“The school is designed to take the slack and help the children who need it most,” Parizek said. Police have not said whether the detained teens were students on the program.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the area’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 healing through music. found. .

The partnership said the Starts Right Here movement “aims to encourage and educate young people living in disadvantaged and oppressive circumstances through arts, entertainment, music, hip-hop and other programs. It also teaches financial literacy and helps students prepare for prepare for job interviews and improve their communication skills.The ultimate goal is to break down the barriers of fear, bullying and other harmful factors that lead to a feeling of disenfranchisement, being forgotten and rejected.

According to the program’s website, one of Keeps’ songs, “Wake Up Iowa,” sends out a message that “violence and hatred are not Iowa’s way, and instead we must learn from other cities’ mistakes or are plagued by violence and crime.”

The school’s website states that 70% of the students it serves are from a minority and that there have been 28 graduates since its inception. The school district said the program serves 40 to 50 students at any one time. The district said no district employees were on the scene at the time of the shooting.

Acting Superintendent Matt Smith said in a statement: “We are saddened to hear of another act of gun violence, especially one that affects an organization that works closely with some of our students. We are still waiting to hear about it. know more, but our thoughts are with all the victims of this incident and their families and friends.”

Governor Kim Reynolds, who sits on the 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 council, according to the program’s website.

“I have 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 locked immediately after the shooting and she saw someone flee the building as police chased him on foot and in patrol cars.

“We just saw a lot of police cars coming from all over,” Krantz told Des Moines Register. “It’s terrifying. We are all concerned. Of course we went into lockdown. We were all told to stay away from the windows because we weren’t sure if they had caught the man.

The shooting was the sixth at a school in the United States this year in which someone was injured or killed, but the first in fatalities, according to Education Week, which tracks school shootings. The website says there were 51 school shootings last year that resulted in injuries or deaths, up from 150 since 2018. The worst shooting last year killed 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.

In another shooting outside a Des Moines high school last March, a student was killed and two other teens were seriously injured. Ten people – all of whom were 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.

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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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