Iowa: Two students shot dead in ‘targeted’ attack on vulnerable youth education program

Police officers stand outside a school housing an educational program called Starts Right Here, affiliated with the Des Moines School District, following a shooting Monday, January 23, 2023, in Des Moines, Iowa. Police say two students were killed and an adult staff member seriously injured in the school shooting, which is dedicated to helping at-risk youth. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP)

Two teenagers were shot dead at a vulnerable youth program in Des Moines, Iowa (Image: AP)

Two students at an alternative education program for at-risk youth were shot dead in a “pointed” attack, police said.

The two teenage victims were students at the Starts Right Here program in Des Moines, Iowa. They were not identified based on their age, but were described as males aged 16 and 18.

A third victim has been identified as an adult employee of the program. He was injured and taken to the hospital in serious condition, where he underwent surgery.

Police later identified the wounded victim as William Holmes, the 49-year-old founder of the Starts Right Here program. Holmes is an artist and activist who performs under the name Will Keeps.

The injured victim has been identified as Starts Right Here founder William Holmes, aka Will Keeps (Image: AP)

Shortly after the shooting, officers from the Des Moines Police Department took several suspects into custody following a traffic stop.

Hours later, they identified a single suspect who they believe is responsible for the shooting. Preston Walls, 18, has been charged with first-degree murder, attempted murder and involvement in a criminal gang. According to police, Walls entered a common area of ​​the school with a 9mm handgun and an extended magazine.

About 16 minutes before the incident, Walls cut off a court-ordered ankle monitor. He is in custody for another crime, police said.

Holmes and other school administrators tried to escort Walls out of the building. At that moment, police say, he turned and opened fire on the two teenage victims.

Police officers enter the Starts Right Here building (Image: AP)

“It wasn’t a coincidence. There was nothing accidental about that. It was certainly a targeted incident,” said Paul Parizek, Des Moines police sergeant.

“Walls and both of the deceased victims are known gang members belonging to opposing gangs and evidence suggests these crimes were committed as a result of an ongoing gang dispute,” police said.

Starts Right Here is a community partner of Des Moines Public Schools, where it works with at-risk students, including those suffering from “cyclical illiteracy, poverty and substance abuse,” according to the organization’s website.

Des Moines Police Spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek addresses the media (Image: AP)

“The school is designed to fill the gap and help the children who need it most,” said Sgt. Parizek.

Homes himself is a former gang member who, according to the organization, began mentoring younger students two decades ago. In 2021 he founded Starts Right Here.

The organization lists board members from the Iowa and Des Moines governments, including Gov. Kim Reynolds and Police Commissioner Dana Wingert.

“I am shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting at Starts Right Here,” Reynolds said. “I’ve seen firsthand how hard Will Keeps and his staff work to help at-risk children through this alternative education program. My heart breaks for them, these children and their families. Kevin and I are praying for her safe recovery.’

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Justin Scaccy

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