AP

Program’s head says Iowa school shooting won’t deter him

Feb 4, 2023, 9:43 PM | Updated: Feb 5, 2023, 3:06 pm

FILE - Will Keeps, president of Starts Right Here, stands for a photo at his organization in Des Mo...

FILE - Will Keeps, president of Starts Right Here, stands for a photo at his organization in Des Moines, Iowa, July 13, 2021. On Friday, Feb. 3, 2023, Keeps, founder of the Starts Right Here program for at-risk youth in Des Moines, said he will remain “all in on helping kids that are not reachable in so many peoples' eyes” after he was wounded in last month's shooting that killed two of his students. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP, File)

(Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Des Moines Register via AP, File)

The founder of an educational program for at-risk youth in Des Moines says he will remain “all in on helping kids that are not reachable in so many peoples’ eyes” after he was wounded in last month’s shooting that killed two students.

Will Keeps, 49, a former Chicago gang member who moved to Iowa in his 20s and later founded the Starts Right Here program, made his first public comments about the shooting this weekend in a video the police department posted online.

“We went all in on helping kids that are not reachable in so many peoples’ eyes,” he said. “Our youth is looking to us to not run. If they constantly keep seeing us say, ‘Oh, we can’t, we’re done,’ what do you think they’re going to do? They going to be done. So become a beast. We need you to fight, become a warrior. And we need to do it together.”

Keeps, a rapper whose given name is Will Homes, had his right arm in a cast held up by a blue sling in the video and kept a walker sitting next to his chair. He was just released from the hospital last week.

Students Gionni Dameron, 18, and Rashad Carr, 16, were killed in the Jan. 23 shooting at the program, which provides help to students under a contract with Des Moines Public Schools. Two other teens have been charged with murder in the shooting. Police have said all four teens were involved with gangs, although the families of the victims denied that.

Keeps said he continues to encounter the kind of violence he experienced as a youth in Chicago when he saw rival gang members kill his friend and he was himself severely beaten.

“I’ve lived it and I’ve seen it every day of my life. I’m not going to sit up here and ignore the fact that we’re killing each other. And we’re killing each other as easy as seeing a fly on the wall and swatting it or seeing an ant on the ground and stomping on it,” he said. “Our youth is in trouble, and we constantly kept doing the same thing over and over and over and over again, and it ain’t working.”

Police have charged Preston Walls, 18, and Bravon Michael Tukes, 19, both of Des Moines, with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of criminal gang participation. Bail was set at $2.5 million for each.

Police say Walls, a Starts Right Here participant, entered a common area of the building Jan. 23 and opened fire before fleeing in a car driven by Tukes. The two belong to a gang and committed the shootings “in connection with that gang membership,” according to police.

Walls waived his preliminary hearing and is awaiting an arraignment that is scheduled for next month, according to online court records. His attorney has declined to comment.

Tukes’ preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday. The lawyers who have been appointed to represent him were not reachable Sunday.

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Program’s head says Iowa school shooting won’t deter him