DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Two teenagers were killed Monday and a man was seriously wounded 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 program’s founder, a rapper who left a life of gangs and violence and was dedicated to helping youth in Des Moines.
Police said Monday that one man has been charged in the shooting and two other people remain 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 is also accused of participating in a criminal group.
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 his ankle monitor 16 minutes before the shooting.
“The incident is definitely intentional. It was no accident. There was nothing accidental about it,” 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 program and goes by the name Will Keeps — was injured and was in surgery Monday night.
Police said Walls and the three victims were at the school Monday when Walls entered a common area where Holmes and the two students were. Walls had a 9mm handgun with an extended ammunition magazine, police said, but did not say whether he was displaying the weapon.
Holmes attempted to escort Walls away from the area, but Walls pulled back, “pulled out a handgun and began shooting at both 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 officers stopped the vehicle. But Walls escaped and was arrested a short time later. Police said a 9mm handgun was found nearby. The ammunition magazine – which has a capacity of 31 rounds – contains three.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cooney said the people in the vehicle with Walls were also teenagers.
“This brings a total of five families of teenagers affected by youth gun violence in a matter of minutes on a Monday afternoon, right here in our capital city,” Cooney said at Monday’s City Council meeting. “This is a growing and troubling 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.”
Cooney observed a moment of silence for the victims. He said he had spoken to their family members. “But there is little that can be said to lessen their 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 clear if he had a lawyer to speak on his behalf.
Police said emergency crews were called to the school, which is located in a business park, shortly before 1 p.m. Officers arrived to find two critically injured students and immediately began CPR, but both students died in hospital.
Starts Right Here is an educational program that serves at-risk youth in grades 9 through 12 and is affiliated with the Des Moines School District.
“The school is designed to reach out and help the kids 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 about 20 years ago from Chicago, where he “lived in a world of gangs and violence” before finding healing through the 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 the barriers of fear, intimidation, and other damaging factors that lead to feeling disenfranchised, forgotten, and rejected.
According to the program’s website, one of Keeps’ songs, “Wake Up Iowa,” sends a message that “violence and hate are not the Iowa way, and instead we should learn from the mistakes of other cities so that you don’t end up being ravaged by violence and crime.”
The school’s website says 70 percent of the students it serves are minorities and has had 28 graduates since it started in 2021. The school district said the program serves 40 to 50 students at any given time. The district said district officials were not on scene 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 that affects an organization that works closely with some of our students. We are still waiting to learn more details, but our thoughts are with all the victims of this incident and their families and friends.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, who serves on an advisory board for Starts Right Here, said she was “shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting.” Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert is on the board of Starts Right Here, according to the program’s website.
“I saw firsthand how hard Will Keeps and his team work to help at-risk kids 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 running from the building with police in pursuit on foot and in patrol cars.
“We just saw a lot of police cars pouring in from everywhere,” Krantz told the Des Moines Register. “It’s terrifying. We’re all worried. Obviously we closed. We were all told to stay away from the windows because we weren’t sure if they had caught the guy,”
The shooting is the sixth U.S. 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 involving injuries or deaths last year, and 150 since 2018. The worst school shooting last year killed 21 people at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas.
In a separate shooting outside a Des Moines high school last March, one student was killed and two other teenagers were seriously injured. 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 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 report.