Thu. Jan 26th, 2023

Two students were killed and an adult staff member was injured in a shooting on Monday at an educational mentorship program for at-risk youths in Des Moines in what the authorities described as a “targeted” attack.

Police officers and firefighters responded to a report of a shooting inside Starts Right Here, a program for students that operates out of a unit in a business park in downtown Des Moines, just before 1 p.m. and found two injured students and an injured staff member, the police said in a statement.

The two students were pronounced dead at a hospital, Sgt. Paul Parizek of the Des Moines Police Department said at a news conference. The injured staff member was in serious condition and was expected to undergo surgery on Monday afternoon, he said.

About 20 minutes after the shooting, the police took three people into custody after making a traffic stop about two miles from the shooting site, Sergeant Parizek said. Two people remained inside the car and the third ran away. A police dog helped track that person down, the sergeant said. A motive for the shooting was not immediately clear, he said.

The names and ages those shot and those taken into custody were not immediately released.

According to its website, Starts Right Here works directly with the city’s public schools by offering tutoring, mentoring and job training. The group’s space also includes a recording studio.

At the news conference, Sergeant Parizek said he felt “like a broken record.”

“We’ve got to get everybody around the table and start finding the solutions to this because the police cannot do it all,” he said. “We’re good at what we do, but that doesn’t give families any peace. That doesn’t give the friends of these kids any hope that it’s going to get any better. We need the support on that front side.”

Sergeant Parizek said Starts Right Here is designed to “pick up the slack” and “help kids who need help the most, the ones who aren’t getting the services that they need for a variety of different reasons.”

“To have it happen here is just, it’s going to be a horrible impact on the community,” he said of the shooting. “The fact that two kids are dead, that’s horrible enough.”

According to the nonprofit’s website, the group was founded by a local rapper, Will Holmes, who performs under the name Will Keeps, to help at-risk youth in the area. Chief Dana Wingert of the Des Moines Police Department and Kim Reynolds, Iowa’s governor, are among the members of the group’s advisory board.

Matt Smith, the interim superintendent of the Des Moines Public Schools, said in a statement that the district was “saddened to learn of another act of gun violence” and described Starts Right Here as “a valuable partner.”

Since 2021, Starts Right Here has provided two services, the statement said: helping to re-engage students in the district’s Options Academy, a credit-recovery program that allows for students from age 17 to 21 to earn their diploma by finishing their credit requirements through self-paced classes or a high school equivalency diploma test, and supporting students academically and socially who no longer attend a traditional school.

The organization serves more than 50 Des Moines Public Schools students at any given time, it said, and the district provides educational programming.

Some students are in the program because of behavioral or discipline reasons that keep them from being in traditional classrooms, and others are in it because they benefit from learning in an alternative setting, Phil Roeder, a spokesman for Des Moines Public Schools, said.

Sergeant Parizek said that the Police Department had worked closely with Starts Right Here and that Mr. Holmes had historically “run a very successful operation.” But the chief acknowledged that the nonprofit was “dealing with kids who are troubled and have a variety of challenges.”

In a statement, Ms. Reynolds said: “I am shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting at Starts Right Here. I’ve seen firsthand 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.”

Jesus Jiménez contributed reporting.



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