What to know about Starts Right Here, the Des Moines shooting location – Des Moines Register

An education program designed to offer a safe haven for at-risk youth from Des Moines Public Schools has been thrust into the spotlight after two students were fatally shot Monday and the program’s founder was wounded.

Starts Right Here, 455 S.W. Fifth St., Suite A, in downtown Des Moines, was created to help area youth struggling at public schools receive needed services, and has partnered with DMPS since 2021 to re-engage students in classes and get them back on track with course credits.

The organization is overseen by Des Moines rapper and charter school advocate Will Keeps, whose legal last name is Holmes. He was the third person shot in the incident and was hospitalized in serious condition, according to Mayor Frank Cownie.

More:What people are saying about the Des Moines shooting that killed 2 students

Here is what we know about the Starts Right Here program where the shootings happened:

What is Starts Right Here and what does it do?

Starts Right Here focuses on helping troubled kids access mental health services, job assistance and educational opportunities, among other services, Holmes said in a July 2021 interview with the Des Moines Register.

In 2021, DMPS and Starts Right Here partnered through the district’s Options Academy — a program that focuses on academic credit recovery — to re-engage students who might not complete the program without intervention.

Options Academy is an alternative education program aimed at helping students ages 17 through 21 earn their high school diploma. The program has self-paced courses and students can take the High School Equivalency Test at completion.

At any time, 40 to 50 Des Moines schools’ students participate in the program, a district news release states.

More:Gov. Reynolds, Des Moines police chief laud ‘Starts Right Here,’ a planned service center for at-risk youth

Who is Will Keeps?

Holmes, a Des Moines-based rapper/singer known as Will Keeps, is president of the youth empowerment nonprofit program Starts Right Here.

The Chicago native’s advocacy work stems to his childhood, an online biography states. At 7 years old, he was sexually abused, making him feel unsafe at home and prompting him to join a gang at 13, according to his website. He survived an attack by a rival gang at age 15. A childhood friend was shot and killed in the same incident.

In his 20s, he moved to Des Moines and began focusing on building a community for people facing similar circumstances, the biography states.

“(I) never had a voice growing up in my life,” Keeps said in a July 2021 interview with the Des Moines Register. “Now, (I) put myself in a situation where I have a voice, where I can actually help the youth that was like me.” 

Will Keeps, President of Starts Right Here, sits in the music studio at his organization in Des Moines, Tuesday, July 13, 2021.

Related:‘A tremendous amount of work’: It may be a while before we see new charter schools, despite Iowa’s recent law

Is Starts Right Here a charter school?

Starts Right Here is not a charter school, but Holmes was a proponent of expanding Iowa’s charter school law in 2021.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ signed the charter school law at Starts Right Here in May 2021.

In July of that year, Holmes told the Register he was considering opening a charter school for at-risk youth.

What happened at Starts Right Here on Monday?

At about 1 p.m. Monday, a shooting was reported at Starts Right Here. Two students were fatally shot, said Des Moines Police Department spokesperson Sgt. Paul Parizek. Founder and president Will Holmes was injured and in surgery Monday afternoon, said Mayor Frank Cownie.

Have the names of the victims been released?

The identities of the victims had not been released Monday night.

More:2 students were killed in a Des Moines shooting. Here’s what we know:

Have the shooters been arrested?

Police stopped a vehicle at 1:20 p.m. near MacRae Park, about 2 miles south of the shooting scene, authorities said. Three people were taken into custody and are being questioned.

No names or charges were released Monday night.

What was the motive behind the shooting?

The motive of the shooting is unknown but the victims were targeted, Parizek said Monday.

This is the city of Des Moines’ eighth homicide in two months.

Samantha Hernandez covers education for the Register. Reach her at (515) 851-0982 or svhernandez@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @svhernandez or Facebook at facebook.com/svhernandezreporter

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