Feb 21, 2023 - News

Will Keeps vows to keep helping troubled youth following shooting

Will Keeps

Will Keeps at Starts Right Here at 455 SW 5th Street in Des Moines. Photo: Linh Ta/Axios

Starts Right Here founder Will Keeps says the aftermath of a January shooting at the nonprofit has put him in a hard place, "mentally and physically and emotionally."

  • "But you know, I've been through a lot in my life," Keeps tells Axios. "I always figured out a way to get through it, but I'm gonna get help this time to help me get through."

Flashback: A Jan. 23 shooting at Starts Right Here killed two Des Moines students, Gionni Dameron, 18, and Rashad Carr, 16, as well as critically injured Keeps.

  • Two teens were arrested in connection with the shooting, which police say was gang-related.

State of play: Keeps, who is in physical therapy and currently uses a walker, says he hopes to open Starts Right Here again soon.

  • The nonprofit serves around 50 students who have left Des Moines schools and want to finish their education.

Driving the news: In an interview with Axios, Keeps talks about his efforts to heal from the traumatic incident, while also supporting the students who attend his nonprofit.

  • The interview has been condensed for space.

On his recovery: Keeps says he lost his pinky finger in the shooting, but that it might have been a blessing in disguise.

  • At the time of the shooting, he was wearing a pinky ring and placed his hand over his heart. His ring was shot instead.

Youth violence in Des Moines: More teens are getting involved in violent crimes because they want to live "the street life." Keeps says.

  • He says his organization tries to teach students about patience and not emulating what they see on social media or hear in music.

How students are doing: There are some concerns from them following the shooting, but many feel like Starts Right Here "is their home," and want to return, Keeps says. They're currently at Kurtz Opportunity Center.

  • "They're not going to stop coming because of what happened."

Starts Right Here's future: Keeps wants to continue helping at-risk youth and is looking for more resources and staff.

  • "These situations, it hurts," Keeps says. "It's painful. But this is the reason why we're fighting."

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