The founder of an education program for at-risk youth in Des Moines says he will remain “all about helping children who aren’t reachable in the eyes of so many people” 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 which the police department posted online.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to help children who are unreachable in the eyes of so many people,” she said. “Our young people ask us not to run. If they keep seeing us constantly saying, “Oh we can’t, we’re done,” what do you think they’ll do? They will be made. Then it becomes a beast. We need you to fight, become a warrior. And we have to do it together.”
Keeps, a rapper whose first name is Will Homes, in the video had his right arm in a cast and supported by a blue sling and was holding a walker sitting next to his chair. He just got released from the hospital last week.
Students Gionni Dameron, 18, and Rashad Carr, 16, were killed in the January 23 shooting during the program, which provides help to students on contracts with Des Moines public schools. Two other teenagers were charged with murder in the shooting. Police said all four teenagers were involved in gangs, although the families of the victims denied it.
Keeps said he continues to encounter the kind of violence he experienced as a youth in Chicago when he saw members of a rival gang kill his friend and was severely beaten himself.
“I have lived it and seen it every day of my life. I’m not going to sit here and ignore the fact that we’re killing each other. And we’re killing each other as easily as seeing a fly on the wall and squashing it or seeing an ant on the ground and stepping on it,” she said. “Our youth is in trouble, and we’ve constantly been doing the same thing over and over and over again. and again, and it doesn’t work.”
Police 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 membership in a criminal gang. Bail was set at $2.5 million for each.
Police say Walls, a Starts Right Here participant, entered a common area of the building on 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 membership of that gang,” according to police.
Walls withdrew from his pretrial hearing and is awaiting an arraignment scheduled for next month, according to online court documents. Her attorney declined to comment.
Tukes’ preliminary hearing is set for Tuesday. The lawyers who were assigned to represent him were not reachable on Sunday.