Police responded to reports of gunshots outside of an H-E-B supermarket after midnight on Tuesday, authorities said in a news release. When officers arrived, they arrested and charged Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., 25, with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony, after they said “an altercation occurred in the parking lot of H-E-B, and multiple shots were fired into a vehicle.”
One of the victims was identified by her coach as Payton Washington, an 18-year-old high school senior and cheerleader for the Round Rock Independent School District near Austin. Washington “sustained serious injuries” after she was shot in the back and the leg, according to police. She was transported to the hospital by helicopter and remains in critical condition, police said. A GoFundMe for Washington says she is “stable in the ICU and will have a long road to recovery.”
The other cheerleader struck by gunfire, Heather Roth, suffered a graze wound on her leg and was released from the scene of the shooting, authorities said.
At a Tuesday night vigil shared to Instagram Live, Roth said she and three other cheerleaders with Woodlands Elite Cheer Co. had just completed their Monday night practice when they went to the H-E-B in Elgin, which acted as their carpool lot. When Roth entered a car she thought was her friend’s, she realized a man was in the passenger seat and quickly got out, she said. After Roth got into her friend’s car, she said she saw Rodriguez approach the vehicle and rolled down her window to apologize.
But what unfolded would echo what happened to Ralph Yarl in Kansas City and Kaylin Gillis in Upstate New York.
“He pulled out a gun, and then he just started shooting at all of us,” Roth said, according to KHOU, an ABC affiliate in Houston. She added, “Payton opens the door, and she starts throwing up blood.”
Two other cheerleaders, who’ve only been identified by Woodlands Elite Cheer Co. on Facebook as Keyona and Genesis, were also involved in the shooting, but were not injured.
The incident comes in the same week that the shootings of Yarl and Gillis became a flash point in the national debate on gun violence and self-defense.
An 84-year-old White Kansas City man is now in custody after opening fire on Yarl, a 16-year-old Black boy who rang his doorbell after showing up to the wrong home to pick up his siblings. Andrew D. Lester, who was charged with felony assault and armed criminal action, told police that “it was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was ‘scared to death’” because of the teenager’s size and his own age and inability to defend himself, according to the criminal complaint. Yarl is expected to survive.
Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said there was “a racial component to the case,” and Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas (D) has emphasized that Yarl was shot “because he was existing while Black.”
Gillis, 20, was shot dead after she and her friends accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway in Hebron, N.Y., while they were looking for their friend’s house. Kevin Monahan, the 65-year-old homeowner, has been charged with murder.
The Texas cheerleaders typically carpooled for practice three times a week from the Austin area to the Woodlands Elite Cheer Co., a competitive cheerleading company in Oak Ridge North, Tex., located about 35 miles north of Houston, according to KTRK in Houston. Lynne Shearer, co-owner of Woodlands Elite Cheer Co., told KXAN, an NBC affiliate in Austin, that the girls had “grown up” in her gym, with many of them starting to cheer for the company as young as 8 years old.
Roth said she was initially panicked at thinking a stranger was inside her friend’s car before realizing she had the wrong vehicle, KHOU reported. So when she started to apologize to him, the man threw up his hands, pulled out a gun and began to shoot, she said on Instagram Live.
Shearer, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday, told KXAN that the girls quickly realized that Rodriguez had a gun.
“And so they tried to speed off and he shot his gun, like five times or so into the car,” Shearer said.
Additional or enhanced charges are likely to be handed down to Rodriguez, police said. It’s unclear whether Rodriguez has an attorney. A police spokesperson told The Washington Post that an update on the case is expected on Wednesday afternoon.
Cheerleaders, staff and family members gathered for the vigil Tuesday night said they were all praying for Washington, who Shearer lauded as “literally one of the very best that’s ever done this sport.” Her coaches say the 18-year-old has been an inspiration to her teammates, as she’s been competing with one lung. One coach said during the Instagram Live that Washington, who is heading to Baylor University to compete on its acrobatic and tumbling team, is facing damage to multiple organs and was forced to have her spleen removed because of the shooting, according to KTRK.
A GoFundMe set up to pay for Washington’s medical expenses has raised more than $68,000 as of Wednesday morning.
As the Texas cheerleaders are set to compete at Cheerleading Worlds in Orlando without Washington as their leader, Shearer reflected to local media how getting into the wrong car by mistake turned into a shooting.
“These girls were just trying to get home,” Shearer said.