Two Students Dead, Adult Injured in Des Moines At-Risk Program Shooting

Photo: Sue Danielson

(Des Moines, IA) -- Two students are dead, and a well-known community organizer is in serious condition after a shooting early Monday afternoon at a non-profit organization for at-risk youth near downtown Des Moines. Police say 49-year-old Will Holmes, also known as Will Keeps, remains hospitalized. Keeps founded the non-profit Starts Right Here. Two male students, ages 16 and 18, died.

Police were called to Starts Right Here on SW 5th Street on report of gunfire just before 1 p.m. Shortly after the shooting, police took multiple people into custody at a separate location on the city's south side. Police arrested 18-year-old Preston Walls of Des Moines.

He's charged with:

  • Murder—1st Degree (two counts)
  • Attempted Murder
  • Criminal Gang Participation

In a press release at 8 p.m. on Monday, DMPD said evidence indicates the following:

Walls was present, along with all three victims, at Starts Right Here. Walls had in his possession a 9mm handgun with an extended ammunition magazine. Walls entered into a common area where all three victims were located and Holmes, the organization's administrator, attempted to escort Walls from the area. Walls pulled away from Holmes, pulled the handgun and began to shoot both teenage victims. Holmes was standing nearby and was also shot. Walls then fled the scene on foot.
Responding Des Moines Police Department patrol officers saw a suspicious vehicle leaving the area of the shooting. A traffic stop was conducted and Walls fled from the vehicle. Walls was located a short time later and taken into custody without incident. The 9mm handgun was found nearby. The ammunition magazine in the handgun has a capacity of 31 rounds, and contained three.
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 prior to the shooting.
Walls, and both deceased victims, are known gang members, belonging to opposing gangs, and evidence indicates that these crimes were committed as a result of an ongoing gang dispute.

Starts Right Here works with the Des Moines Public School District, serving up to 50 students at any given time. No Des Moines Public School staff were there at the time of the shooting.

Des Moines School Superintendent Matt Smith issued a statement Monday afternoon on behalf of the district:

“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. Starts Right Here is a valuable partner to DMPS, doing important work to help us re-engage students, and we stand by to support them during this critical time.”

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds released the following statement in response to the shooting at Starts Right Here:

 “I am shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting at Starts Right Here. I’ve seen first-hand how hard Will Keeps and his staff works to help at-risk kids through this alternative education program. My heart breaks for them, these kids and their families. Kevin and I are praying for their safe recovery."

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