Des Moines police say an 18-year-old is charged in the shooting deaths Monday of two teens at an alternative education program.
Preston Walls of Des Moines faces two counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder for a shooting that took place at the non-profit Starts Right Here. Police say two male Des Moines students, ages 16 and 18, were killed. Their names have not been released.
The program’s founder – local hip-hop artist and activist Will Holmes, also known as Will Keeps — was also shot in the attack. He remains hospitalized in serious condition. The organization was originally identified by police as a charter school, but it is not.
Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie began last night’s city council meeting by addressing the shooting. “This is another one of those events that seem to take place too often across too many communities in this country. A story that repeats itself. The tragic story of young lives taken far too soon by gun violence. Two teenagers tonight are dead because of this violence,” Cownie said.
Cownie called for more gun control. “That is why as elected officials, law enforcement, community leaders, and residents we must do more to battle this issue. And never accept or dismiss teenage gun violence as simply a turbulent sign of the times. Too many young lives depend on it,” Cownie said.
Governor Reynolds signed a bill into law In May of 2021 that made it easier to form publicly funded charter schools. She held the bill signing ceremony at the Starts Right Here building. Organization founder Will Keeps spoke at the 2021 event. “We see that things are not working well for the kids, so what’s wrong with giving them another opportunity, another chance?” he asked. “I don’t see anything wrong with it.”
The Starts Right Here board of directors released a statement saying they “are heartbroken and angry” that two students were shot and killed. It says their prayers are with founder and president Will Keeps, along with the families and friends of all those involved in this tragedy.
Des Moines Police Department spokesman said Walls entered into a common area where all three victims were located and Holmes, attempted to escort Walls from the area. Walls pulled away from Holmes, pulled a nine-millimeter handgun, and began to shoot both teenage victims. Holmes was standing nearby and was also shot.
Walls then fled the scene on foot and later fled from a car that was stopped by police, but was found and taken into custody without incident. Additional evidence indicates that Walls cut off a court-ordered GPS ankle monitor, a supervised pre-trial release condition following a weapons charge, approximately 16 minutes before the shooting. Walls and both the victims who died are known gang members and evidence indicates that the shooting was committed as a result of an ongoing gang dispute.
Two others taken into custody have been released without charges.
(Natalie Krebs of Iowa Public Radio contributed to this story)