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Two students shot to death at Des Moines charter school

Two students were fatally shot Monday afternoon at a charter school in Des Moines, Iowa, that is tailored for disadvantaged youths and has close ties to police, authorities said.

Killed were an 18-year-old male and a 16-year-old male, police said. An 18-year-old was arrested and faces two counts of murder. Two others are in custody as the investigation continues, according to police.

The calls for help came about 12:50 p.m. CT at Starts Right Here, and responding officers found the two students and an adult all wounded, Des Moines Police Sgt. Paul Parizek said.

Jan. 23, 202301:00

Mayor Frank Cownie and police identified the wounded adult as the Starts Right Here program’s founder, William Holmes, who goes by Will Keeps, and said he was recovering. Police said he was in serious condition.

“There was nothing random about this. It was certainly a targeted incident,” Parizek said.

Preston Walls, 18, has been arrested on two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of criminal gang participation, police said Monday night.

Walls entered a common area and had a 9 mm handgun with an extended magazine, police said.

Keeps was trying to escort Walls away from the area when Walls allegedly pulled away and shot the two victims who later died, and Keeps was also shot, police said.

Walls and the victims were members of opposing gangs, and “evidence indicates that that these crimes were committed as a result of an ongoing gang dispute,” police said in Monday night’s statement.

Witnesses provided a description of a fleeing car, which police tracked down, Parizek said.

The vehicle was pulled over 2 miles south of the school, police said, and two people surrendered immediately, while a third person, later identified as Walls, fled and was arrested.

The two other people apprehended remained in custody Monday as the investigation continued, police said.

Cownie said Monday evening that he had spoken with the families of the victims and offered them the city’s support and prayers.

“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,” Cownie said.

“Three others are in custody, suspects of these shootings. 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,” the mayor said.

The Iowa shooting comes as other troubling incidents of gunfire have erupted across the U.S.

Eleven people were killed at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California, late Saturday, and 12 people were shot in a Baton Rouge, Louisiana, bar early Sunday. Seven others died Monday in shootings at two nurseries near Half Moon Bay, California.

Start Right Here describes itself as a school for students who “deserve a chance to rise above the circumstances they were born into” and hopes to “give them a chance to choose a different future.”

Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert is on the school’s board of directors.

“These are supposed to be our safe spaces, and this school in particular, it’s one that the police department works very closely with,” Parizek said.

“The school is designed to pick up the slack and help kids who need the help the most, the ones who aren’t getting the services they need for a variety of different reasons. To have it happen here, it’s going to be a horrible impact on the community.”

After Walls was arrested, a 9 mm handgun with a magazine that can hold 31 rounds, and which held three, was found nearby, according to police.

The number of rounds fired is still being determined as the scene continues to be processed, Parizek said. Each victim was struck multiple times, he said.

Walls was on pretrial release on a weapons charge and had cut off a court-ordered GPS ankle monitor 16 minutes before the shooting, police said.

A contact number for family members could not immediately be found in online records Monday night.

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