By SCOTT McFETRIDGE and JOSH FUNK
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Two students were killed Monday and an adult employee was injured in what police said was a targeted shooting at a Des Moines school that is dedicated to helping at-risk youth, and three people were arrested afterward.
The shooting was at an educational program called Starts Right Here that is affiliated with the Des Moines school district. Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie said at Monday night’s City Council meeting that the injured adult is the program’s founder, William Holmes, a rapper who goes by the stage name Will Keeps.
“We all wish Will our best,” Cownie said. He also said that the students who died were teenagers, and three people arrested were also teens, and the shooting is another story of young lives taken too soon by gun violence.
“Two teenagers tonight are dead because of this violence. Just a short time ago, I spoke to their family members and offered our community’s support and thoughts and prayers. But there is little one can say that will lessen their pain,” he said. “Nothing that can be said to bring them back, those who were killed so senselessly.”
He asked those at the City Council meeting to observe a moment of silence for the victims.
Police said emergency crews were called to the school, which is in a business park, just before 1 p.m. Officers arrived to find two students critically injured, and they started CPR immediately. The two students died at a hospital. The adult employee, later identified by the mayor as Keeps, was in serious condition and was headed into surgery Monday afternoon.
About 20 minutes after the shooting, police said officers stopped a car that matched witnesses’ descriptions about 2 miles (3.22 kilometers) away and took three people into custody. Police said one person ran from the car, but officers tracked that person down with a K-9.
“The incident was definitely targeted. It was not random. There was nothing random about this,” Sgt. Paul Parizek said.
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 pick up the slack and help the kids who need help the most,” Parizek said.
The Greater Des Moines Partnership, the economic and community development organization for the region, 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 music.
The partnership 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 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 damaging factors leading to a sense of being disenfranchised, forgotten and rejected.”
The school’s website says 70% of the students it serves are minorities, and it has had 28 graduates since it started. The school district said the program serves 40 to 50 students at any given time. The district said no district employees were on site 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 impacts an organization that works closely with some of our students. We are still waiting to learn more details, but our thoughts are with any 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 Starts Right Here board, according to the program’s website.
“I’ve seen first-hand how hard Will Keeps and his staff works to help at-risk kids through this alternative education program,” Reynolds said in a statement. “My heart breaks for them, these kids and their families. Kevin and I are praying for their safe recovery.”
Nicole Krantz said her office near the school was put on lockdown 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 cop cars pouring in from everywhere,” Krantz told the Des Moines Register. “It’s terrifying. We’re all worried. We went on lockdown, obviously. We were all told to stay away from the windows because we weren’t sure if they caught the guy,”
The shooting was the sixth at a school in the U.S. 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 in 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 teens were badly injured. Ten people — who were all between the ages of 14 and 18 at the time of the shooting — were charged afterward. Five of them have 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.