Two students died in a shooting at a Des Moines nonprofit Monday afternoon, and local activist and rapper William Holmes, known more commonly as Will Keeps, is hospitalized in serious condition. The nonprofit Starts Right Here, founded by Keeps, provides mentorship to disadvantaged youths.

Since 2021, Starts Right Here, located at 455 S.W. Fifth St., has partnered with Des Moines Public Schools to re-engage “urban youth who have been touched by real-life challenges,” according to its website.

Keeps was in surgery Monday evening, according to a statement from the organization’s board of directors shortly after 9 p.m., and no further updates were announced this morning. The two students who were killed were 16 and 18 years old, but their names have not been released. An 18-year-old suspect has been arrested and charged with two counts of murder, one count of attempted murder and one count of criminal gang participation. He is being held in the Polk County Jail.

At any given time, the organization serves between 40 and 50 high school students, 70% of whom are minorities, by offering programming that encompasses education, music, sports and other activities, its website says. Twenty-eight students have graduated from the program.

A statement from the Starts Right Here board of directors announced classes were canceled for the remainder of the week, and grief counseling is available.

The statement reads: “We are heartbroken and angry that two of our students were shot and killed this afternoon. Will Keeps, founder and president of Starts Right Here, a nonprofit educational program, was also shot and is in surgery tonight. Our prayers are with Will, and the families and friends of all those involved in this tragedy.

“This is a tremendously painful time for our entire Starts Right Here community, as our sole focus is to help at-risk youth reach their full potential. These actions are contrary to all that we stand for and point out more must be done. These two students had hope and a future that will never be realized. We can no longer say this type of violence doesn’t happen in Des Moines. Sadly, it does. However, it will not stop us from the work that we are called to do, and that work starts right here.

“We thank the Des Moines Police Department and first responders for their swift action. We are fully cooperating with local authorities in their investigation. And, we ask for community support as we grieve for those who died and for all those forever impacted by this violence.”

The Starts Right Here board is made up of 11 people, including Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert. The organization also has a five-person advisory board, whose members include Gov. Kim Reynolds and Greater Des Moines Partnership CEO Jay Byers.

Reynolds issued a statement Monday: “I am shocked and saddened to hear about the shooting at Starts Right Here. I’ve seen first-hand 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.”

Starts Right Here is supported by more than 30 businesses and organizations, some of which have also released statements.

“We are saddened and heart-broken at the loss of life and injury,” United Way of Central Iowa said. “We stand ready to provide any support we can for the organization, and the individuals and families that are impacted by this tragedy.”

Des Moines Public Schools officials said: “We are saddened to learn of another act of gun violence, especially one that impacts an organization that works closely with some of our students. We are still waiting to learn more details, but our thoughts are with any victims of this incident and their families and friends. Starts Right Here is a valuable partner to DMPS, doing important work to help us re-engage students, and we stand by to support them during this critical time.”

Des Moines Mayor Frank Cownie addressed the “horrific shooting” and held a moment of silence at the City Council meeting Monday, and said he had met with the students’ parents and offered his condolences.

“Unfortunately, this is another one of those events that seems to take place too often across too many communities in this country. A story that repeats itself, a tragic story of young lives taken far too soon by gun violence. Two teenagers tonight are dead because of this violence,” Cownie said.

He called on elected officials, law enforcement, community leaders and residents to do more to address gun violence, and to “never accept or dismiss teenage gun violence as simply a turbulent sign of the times.”