This is a breaking news story and will be updated.
Two students were killed just before 1 pm Monday in the shootings at Start Right Here, an educational mentorship program in the city of Des Moines that helps at-risk youth and has received high-profile support from state and city leaders.
Police spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek said an adult worker at the nonprofit was injured and in serious condition. At Monday night’s Des Moines City Council meeting, Mayor Frank Cownie said Starts Right Here founder Will Holmes was among those injured and recovering in the hospital.
Parizek said the injured students were found in very critical condition and officers performed CPR on them. They were taken to the hospital, where they died.
At approximately 1:20 p.m., according to witness statements, police stopped the vehicle near MacRae Park, about 2 miles south of the shooting scene. One person fled and was tracked by a K-9 officer to the 1300 block of River Vista Drive, while the other two people remained in the car, Parizek said. All three were arrested and questioned, he said.
Cownie said both the victim and the suspect are teenagers.
“That brings the total to five teenage families affected by youth gun violence in a matter of minutes on Monday afternoon, here in our capital,” he said. “This is a growing and alarming phenomenon in our country and one that we have seen often in the past and now again in the city of Des Moines.”
Parizek said the victim was targeted. He said he did not know their age.
About 20 people gathered in MercyOne Des Moines’ emergency room and lobby Monday afternoon.
Several confirmed to the Des Moines register that they are either friends or family of the individual who died in the shooting, but declined to comment further. They stood, paced, sat and talked as they waited to hear more news about their loved ones. Many of them were teenagers.
Several cars, as well as police vehicles, were parked in front of the entrance to the hospital. A crime scene unit was also seen leaving the parking lot.
Bystanders: ‘Police cars coming in from everywhere’
The Starts Right Here program, 455 SW Fifth St., was founded by local rapper and activist Holmes, whose stage name is Will Keeps.
Nicole Krantz, a coder at MercyOne Des Moines Clinics Administration, said her office, which is next to Starts Right Here, was put on hold immediately after the shooting. He said he saw someone run from the building and police gave chase, both on foot and in patrol cars.
“We just saw a lot of police cars coming from everywhere,” Krantz said.
“It’s scary. We’re all worried,” he said. “We’re still locked down. We were all told to stay away from the windows because we weren’t sure if they had caught the man.
Krantz said he spent the rest of the day due to stress and anxiety.
The shootings are the latest in a wave of violence that has swept through metro Des Moines since early December, including at least 10 homicides, the killing by Des Moines police of a 16-year-old who said they raised a gun at them. and some non-fatal shootings.
Parizek said that while there was “nothing random” about Monday’s shooting, a specific motive was unclear. It was the eighth homicide in the city of Des Moines in the past two months, he said, “and the why is something that sometimes we don’t know, unless someone tells us why.”
State, local leaders responded to the shooting
In a partnership that begins in 2021 with Des Moines Public Schools, Starts Right Here helps students return to the district’s Options Academy credit recovery program, the school district said in a press release. It said the group supports students no longer in the school building due to behavioral issues.
The group serves 40 to 50 students at any given time, with the district providing educational programs. release said. No Des Moines school personnel were at Starts Right Here when the shooting occurred, he said.
Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert is on the board of Starts Right Here, and Governor Kim Reynolds is on the advisory board.
Reynolds in May 2021 signed a bill expanding charter schools in a ceremony at Starts Right Here. In a statement Monday, he said he was “shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting at Starts Right Here. I have 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, the children this is with his family. Kevin and I are praying for his safe recovery.
US Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, tweeted that he was “monitoring reports of the shooting in Des Moines at Starts Right Here…”
“Thx to the first responders & law enforcement for responding so quickly,” he wrote. “Praying for all those affected.”
Des Moines interim superintendent of schools Matt Smith said in a statement that school officials are waiting to learn more details, but that “we are saddened to learn about another act of gun violence, especially one that affects an organization that works closely with some of our students,” adding, “Our thoughts are with the victims of this incident and their families and friends.”
Iowa State Education Association President Mike Beranek is calling for more effective gun violence prevention in educational settings.
“Tragedy once again strikes close to home. Our hearts go out to the victims, families, and the school community at Starts Right Here because they endured the unthinkable,” Beranek said in a statement. “We implore our elected leaders to consider effective strategies to eliminate gun violence and pursue concrete solutions that will keep our students, educators, and communities safe. Our schools must be bastions of safety, not recipients of violence. This needs to end. As a nation we must recognize this is (a) a social problem that enters our school.
Amid a busy day focused on education issues, the Iowa House held a moment of silence for the victims Monday at the request of Minority Leader Jennifer Konfrst, D-Windsor Heights.
“A few moments ago, two students in Des Moines were killed in a shooting at the Starts Right Here educational nonprofit mentorship program on Southwest Fifth. One adult we believe is in serious condition. I would like to ask for a moment of silence in honor of the families of those who lost children today and to honor and appointed Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad who is now helping to repair the people after his death,” Konfrst said.
Sen. Brad Zaun, R-Urbandale, also led the Iowa Senate in a moment of silence.
“I just ask everyone to be silent for a moment, to pray for the families of the victims and victims, and the residents of that educational institution,” Zaun said.
Will Keeps founded Starts Right Here to combat youth violence
Holmes has said he founded Starts Right Here to help prevent youth violence. He said he was born on the South Side of Chicago and became involved with gangs there after a traumatic event in his childhood.
“I thought the streets were my family,” he said as one of the presenters at the Des Moines Register’s Storytellers Project in 2018. “I thought these people on the street would have my back more than my own family. They would protect me more than my family alone.”
Then he saw a friend fatally shot and suffered a beating that almost killed him, leaving him angry and aggressive, he said.
He carried that emotion to Iowa, he said, as well as his career as a rapper. But when the kids challenged him to write a song about “what’s going on in society,” he said, he found one that was about “opening up people on every side to listen and understand each other.”
It opens his eyes to the possibilities for change.
“You see, when I cut the negativity out of my life and added hope and multiplied it to the people around me, I saw the segregation in my city begin to fade,” he said. “It helps me have a more positive impact in my community.”
Staff writers Virginia Barreda, Samantha Hernandez and F. Amanda Tugade contributed to this article.