By Andrea May Sahouri, Des Moines Register
One teenager was killed and two others were in critical condition after a shooting outside of East High School in Des Moines on Monday afternoon. It’s the city’s fourth homicide in 2022.
A 15-year-old boy did not survive his injuries, according to police. Two young women, one 16 and one 18, also were shot and were in critical condition Monday evening.
Des Moines police spokesperson Paul Parizek said Monday night that the victim who died was not a student at East High School, but said the two teens in critical condition are students at the school.
The shooting occurred outside of the building, but on school grounds, police said. Officials said they believe the gunfire came from a passing vehicle. They said shell casings were recovered from the scene.
“Our entire community is in mourning right now,” Des Moines Superintendent Thomas Ahart said Monday evening. “We do not have young lives to spare in Des Moines.”
Officials had not released the victims’ identities by Monday evening.
Des Moines police continue to investigate the shooting, along with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Iowa State Patrol, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, and the Des Moines Public Schools Department of Public Safety.
School officials, students, first responders are shaken
Police chief Dana Wingert was at the scene Monday afternoon and evening.
“This is a dark day for the city of Des Moines,” Wingert said at an evening news conference. “Another tragic loss of life. Every one of them is tragic. Every one of them is pointless.”
The shooting happened shortly before 3 p.m., according to school officials, near the northwest corner of the school campus. Both Wingert and Ahart praised the swiftness of the school and police response.
“I think we can all agree an event like this is everyone’s worst nightmare. Tonight, hug your students and love them,” East High School principal Jill Versteeg told families.
Des Moines Police said that they had detained potential suspects but that no charges had been filed by late Monday afternoon.
“It is a punch in the gut that we have three kids in the hospital,” KCCI-TV reported that Sgt. Paul Parizek, the police department spokesperson, said, “but we are hoping for the best for them.”
East High sophomore Jadi Makwag, 15, said he was in seventh period Monday afternoon when the news starting buzzing around the school and students were put on lockdown. He said it was a shock.
“I thought it was a joke at first because we had a fire drill earlier today… Nobody expected it,” Makwag said.
East High mother: ‘I was terrified’
ToyA Johnson, 45, has two children who attend East. She was at home about three blocks away from the high school when she heard the sirens.
“I was terrified,” Johnson said.
Johnson called her children. Her panic turned to relief when they answered, then sadness as she thought of the parents whose child won’t be returning home.
“You know, we send our kids out here to get an education every day and I am feeling so sad for those parents because they did not know that today they would send their children to get an education and they wouldn’t return home,” she said, beginning to cry. “We need to have solutions to the violence in our schools.”
Her son, A’Rontae Johnson, 15, said that shortly before the shooting happened students had gone outside because smoke alarms went off. After students were allowed back in the building, he headed to his seventh hour class. It was at that time he says he heard gunshots and screaming.
Besides an announcement about the school being on lockdown, class seemed to go on as normal, he said. Once the lockdown was lifted, the 10th-grader met up with his sister, mother, and younger brother.
Izaah Knox, executive director of the social services agency Urban Dreams and a candidate for the Iowa Senate, decried the violence.
“Right now there are too many guns on the street. Too many guns in the hands of young people,” Knox said.
Counselors will be available for students
Before holding floor debate Monday afternoon, the Iowa House of Representatives paused for a moment of silence for those involved in the shooting. Rep. Ruth Ann Gaines, D-Des Moines, who taught in the district for 40 years and recently had an auditorium named in honor of her service, requested it.
“I look at school students as all of our students,” Gaines said. “We only have our kids for a short amount of time in life. And we depend on so many others to help us raise them. It’s a village, right? So I would like this moment of silence for all of those students, even though you may not know them, and they may not be related to you. They are all God’s children.”
There will be no school Tuesday and officials will make a grief team available for the school’s students and staff all week, according to a release from the school. Counselors will also be available at other schools.
“We live in an era when shootings in and near schools have become too common,” Ahart said. “Our staff and students are forced to train for these incidents and the trauma associated with the repeated drills and incidents will remain with them for years to come. It’s unfortunate that our state and our country have become a place where firearms are far too easily accessible. We remain committed to protecting our students and staff, but real change to gun laws and access would go a long way to help us.”
Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.
Ian Richardson and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
An earlier version of this story said the school had cancelled classes. It had already planned not to have school on Tuesday.