DES MOINES, IOWA — The families of Gionni Dameron and Rashad Carr, the two teens shot and killed at Starts Right Here education center in Des Moines, spoke out publicly for the first time since the shooting on Wednesday. Dameron, 18, and Carr, 16, were shot by fellow student Preston Walls on Monday afternoon inside the center housed in a downtown business park.

At a news conference organized by community leaders, family members thanked the community for their continued prayers and asked that Gionni and Rashad be remembered for who they really were. Police have said gang affiliations played a role in the shooting, but family members say it is unfair to call either of the victims gang members.

“Yes, they were imperfect.  They were growing to become men.  They made mistakes.  We all have.  We’re human,” said Nicole Sanders – Rashad’s grandmother. “I’m not going to let you give my grandson that label.”

“Let’s focus on the positive things about my son and keep the narrative where it is supposed to be which is the fact that this was two really good boys who lost their lives,” said Gary Dameron, Gionni’s father. He said his son had a budding career in the music industry and was focused on learning to manage his money.

Jamiah Shields, the expectant mother of Rashad Carr’s child, spoke in his memory – saying he should be remembered as a protector. “All he ever wanted to do was protect his friends, his family and people he cared about. He didn’t deserve this at all.”

A candlelight vigil honoring Dameron and Carr will be held on Friday, January 27th at 6:00pm outside of Starts Right Here at 455 SW 5th Street.

Also injured in the shooting was Will Keeps, founder of the Starts Right Here center. At last report he remained hospitalized with serious injuries. On Wednesday, Gionni Dameron’s mother questioned the security at the school that welcomed troubled teens. “I appreciate Mr. Will Keeps and I want you to keep him in your prayers.  He knew and trusted these kids.  But his failure to me was no metal detectors,” Nicole Sanders said.

Among the board members at the school is Des Moines Police Chief Dana Wingert. On Wednesday he released his first statement since the shooting:

“On January 23rd, an all-too familiar scenario played out in the City of Des Moines. Unfortunately, this scene has become increasingly common across the country, and our community is no different. Tragic loss of two young lives at the hands of gun violence, with a third person seriously injured, is something we should never accept as “normal” or “acceptable”. It can only be viewed as tragic, sad and pointless each and every time.

Monday’s incident took this disturbing trend to a new level, as the violence was brought the very institution created to provide hope and opportunity to some of our most troubled youth, and its founder, Will Keeps, who has made it his life’s work to ensure their success. As troubling as this is, it would be a mistake to underestimate the passion and energy that he will bring to this important work upon his recovery.

The response to this incident was impressive, to say the least. The first officers on scene rushed into the building without hesitation or delay. Fire medics arrived quickly to provide aid and live-saving measures. A traffic stop with the armed suspect in the vehicle was conducted minutes into the incident. Detectives and CSI technicians worked tirelessly well into the night to find the answers and file the appropriate charges on the shooter. This collective response brought a horrible tragedy to a quick resolution. Our partners from local, county, state and federal law enforcement agencies were there quickly to provide resources and support to this effort, something we’ve come to expect from these valued partners in Central Iowa.

There are resources and a collective will in this City to tackle challenging issues such as this, and I can assure you that those resources will be put into play in the continued fight against violent crime. There is no other way.”

Dana Wingert, Des Moines Police Chief