Shooting that killed two at US youth programme was targeted, say police

Two teenagers were killed and the programme’s founder, 49-year-old William Holmes, was seriously injured.

School Shooting Des Moines
School Shooting Des Moines

The killing of two students at an alternative education programme designed to help at-risk teenagers in Iowa was a targeted attack, police said, and an 18-year-old has been charged.

The teenagers killed in Monday’s shooting at the Starts Right Here programme in Des Moines were both males, aged 18 and 16, police said.

The programme’s founder, 49-year-old William Holmes, was seriously injured and underwent surgery.

Mr Holmes, an activist and rapper who goes by the stage name Will Keeps, left a life of gangs and violence and has been dedicated to helping youth in Des Moines, according to a regional community development group.

School Shooting Des Moines
Will Holmes, a rapper who goes by the stage name Will Keeps (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Des Moines Register/AP)

Preston Walls, 18, of Des Moines, was charged with two counts of murder and one count of attempted murder, police said.

He was also charged with criminal gang participation, and authorities said the shooting was the result of an ongoing gang dispute. He was on supervised release for a weapons charge and had removed his ankle monitor 16 minutes before the shooting, police said.

“The incident was definitely targeted. It was not random. There was nothing random about this,” Sergeant Paul Parizek said.

Walls and all three victims were at the programme on Monday when Walls entered a common area where Mr Holmes and the two students were, police said. Walls had a 9mm handgun with an extended ammunition magazine, they added.

School Shooting Des Moines
Sergeant Paul Parizek speaks outside the Starts Right Here building (Charlie Neibergall/AP)

Mr Holmes tried to escort Walls away from the area, but he pulled away, “pulled the handgun and began to shoot both teenage victims”, officers said in a statement. Mr Holmes was standing nearby and was also shot, and Walls ran away, police added.

Officers who responded saw a suspicious vehicle leaving the area and stopped it, but Walls ran away and was arrested a short time later. Police said a 9mm handgun was found nearby. The ammunition magazine, which has a capacity of 31 rounds, contained just three.

Des Moines mayor Frank Cownie said two other teenagers in the vehicle with Walls were taken into custody and later released without charge.

“That brings a total of five families of teenagers affected by youth gun violence in a matter of minutes on a Monday afternoon, right here in our capital city,” Mr Cownie said at Monday’s City Council meeting.

School Shooting Des Moines
Police at the scene (Zach Boyden-Holmes/Des Moines Register/AP)

He said he had spoken to the victims’ families, “but there is little one can say that will lessen their pain. Nothing that can be said to bring them back, those who were killed so senselessly”.

Starts Right Here is an educational programme that helps at-risk youth and is affiliated with the Des Moines school district.

“The school is designed to pick up the slack and help the kids who need help the most,” Sgt Parizek said.

The shooting was the sixth at a school in the US 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.

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