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Starts Right Here students return to class following January tragedy

Monday, Feb. 27 was the first day of classes following the fatal shooting that killed two students in January.

DES MOINES, Iowa — Returning to the site of a traumatic event is never easy.

And despite being enrolled at Starts Right Here for a year, Trinity Tolson said after the January shooting that claimed the lives of two of her classmates, she wasn't sure what to do.

"At first, I wasn't really wanting to come back because of what happened. It kind of just made me think about a whole bunch of other things like how my life would be, how my feelings would go," Tolson said.

Tuesday is the second day that classes at Starts Right Here have been back in session following the shooting. And after getting to see her classmates again, Tolson has shaken off any doubts.

"Just hearing everybody's story, it kind of matches up my mind a little bit. And I'm just like, there's big connections here," she said.

That's music to the ears of Will Keeps, the program's founder, who was also wounded during the shooting. He's back in class too, and he's not slowing down.

"What happened just showed us that we need a lot of help in our community. And if we have something that is actually working, that means we need to go harder with it and not less," Keeps said.

And as SRH students and staff get back into the swing of things, Keeps told Local 5 he's not stopping right here, either. He wants to use the tragedy as a jumping-off point for bigger and better things in the program's future.

"I want to have housing, I want a building for sports, a building for trades, a building for art ... I want to help those kids be able to learn how to deal with the world a little bit better," he said.

And that vision for the program and all the students who have gone through it is one that's bringing them all together, even after tragedy.

"We are still working hard. We're still smiling. We're still putting smiles on other people's faces. We're just going on, because it's not the end. We can always build up," Tolson said.

Bill Reed, a teacher at Starts Right Here, had nothing but great things to say about his students following the tragedy.

"That brilliance and that bright mind inside hasn't blossomed yet, but with a little patience and a little time, these kids are smart and they're capable of doing great things," he said. "It's just maybe a different track than your normal education route."

Officials say the program has had 33 graduates so far. More information about Starts Right Here is available on its website.

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