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2 Texas cheerleaders were shot after 1 tried to get in the wrong car after practice

Police in Elgin, Texas say 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr. faces a third-degree felony count of deadly conduct after an early-morning shooting in an H-E-B parking lot.
Elgin Police Department
Police in Elgin, Texas say 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr. faces a third-degree felony count of deadly conduct after an early-morning shooting in an H-E-B parking lot.

A suspect is in custody after two elite high-school cheerleaders were shot — one of whom was critically injured — in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one of them mistakenly tried to get into the wrong car after a late-night practice.

Police in Elgin, about 25 miles east of Austin, said in a release that 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr. was charged with "deadly conduct," a third-degree felony. That's punishable by two to 10 years in prison or a fine of up to $10,000.

"This is still an active investigation," they added. "Additional or enhanced charges may be filed."

Police say officers were dispatched to the H-E-B parking lot around 12:15 a.m. on Tuesday after reports of shots fired. While there, they received another call about a shooting victim about 2 miles away, and determined that the two incidents were related.

"Information suggests that an altercation occurred in the parking lot of HEB, and multiple shots were fired into a vehicle," police say, adding that two of the people inside were hit.

One was treated and released on the scene, while the other sustained serious injuries and remains hospitalized in critical condition.

Woodlands Elite Cheer Co. — a competitive cheer and recreational tumbling company with several locations in Texas and other states — confirmed on social media that "4 of our girls were involved in a horrific incident on their way home after practice last night."

They identified the critically injured cheerleader as Payton Washington, who they described as an "icon" of the all-star cheerleading world.

"We are asking for your prayers for Payton, Keyona, Heather & Genesis," they added. "Also Big prayers for Payton as she recovers please."

The company urged the cheer community to wear red in a show of support, and has since shared dozens of Instagram stories by teams that are obliging from as far away as New York and Indiana.

What happened in the parking lot?

Details of the incident are starting to emerge as those close to it share on social media and with local news outlets. It was also captured on surveillance footage that has not yet been released.

The four cheerleaders use the H-E-B as a carpool lot when they make the roughly 360-mile round trip from Round Rock to Oak Ridge for practice several times a week, according to ABC13.

Cheerleader Heather Roth said on Instagram Live that she and three of her teammates got to the lot just after midnight, ABC News reports.

Roth opened the door to a car that she thought was hers, but saw a man sitting in the passenger seat and quickly retreated to her friend's car instead. She said the man approached their vehicle, and she had just rolled down her window to apologize when he started shooting.

Shearer told NBC affiliate KXAN that once the girls saw he had a gun "they tried to speed off and he shot ... five times or so into the car."

Roth was grazed by a bullet. Washington was shot in the leg and back.

"Payton opens the door, and she starts throwing up blood," Roth said.

An H-E-B manager saw the suspect "shoot at the vehicle multiple times" before fleeing the area, according to an affidavit seen by ABC13. Elgin police say they worked "through the night" to identify and track him down.

Tuesday's incident comes on the heels of two other high-profile instances of young people getting shot after allegedly approaching the wrong house, which have renewed focus and debate around "stand your ground" laws.

Sixteen-year-old Ralph Yarl was seriously injured in a shooting after he rang the wrong doorbell while picking up his siblings in In Kansas City, Mo., last week, while 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was killed in upstate New York after the car she was in mistakenly pulled into the wrong driveway. Her friends quickly realized their mistake and were turning around when the homeowner fired two shots into their car.

The all-star cheerleader faces a 'long road to recovery'

Woodlands wrote in a GoFundMe for Washington's medical expenses that she "is stable in the ICU and will have a long road to recovery."

A coach said on Instagram Live that Washington suffered damage to multiple organs, had her spleen removed and is expected to undergo more surgeries this week, ABC13 reports.

The high school senior had signed to join Baylor University's Acrobatics and Tumbling team in the fall and was days away from competing in her last Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando, Woodlands Elite Cheer Owner Lynne Shearer told FOX 7.

"She's won every title there is to win in All-Star cheerleader except for a world title, so that makes this super heartbreaking for her," Shearer said, adding that the team still plans to be at the championships and "will definitely all be competing for her."

She praised Washington's strength, noting the athlete was born with one lung and overcame her share of challenges to become an icon in the all-star cheerleading world.

"She's a mentor and role model to so many kids in this industry," she told KHOU 11. "She's an amazing athlete, amazing kid, so everybody knows her and everybody's praying for her."

Baylor Acrobatics and Tumbling Coach Felecia Mulkey described Washington as a "strong young lady" and "an amazing athlete but a better human," telling FOX 7 in a statement that she "has no doubt she's going to get through this."

"My prayers are with Payton and her teammates that were involved in last night's tragic event," she added. "I know mental wounds also leave scars."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.