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More seriously wounded of 2 cheerleaders shot in Texas parking lot recovering from surgery, team official says

Payton Washington
Posted at 2:10 PM, Apr 20, 2023

The most seriously injured of two teenage cheerleaders shot in a Texas parking lot this week -- an incident in which one said she'd opened the wrong vehicle door-- is recovering from surgery as her team prepares to compete in a world championship without her, an official with her cheer company said.

Payton Washington was shot in the leg and back during the early Tuesday attack in the city of Elgin, damaging her pancreas and diaphragm and requiring her to undergo surgery to remove her ruptured spleen, Lynne Shearer, managing partner of the Woodlands Elite cheer program, told CNN on Wednesday.

A suspect is in custody, police have said.

Washington's cheer team is set to perform in a championship competition this weekend in Orlando, though the high school senior will not be able to compete, Shearer said.

"The realization of the fact that she's not going to be competing this weekend -- it was starting to set in," she told CNN.

Washington, according to her team, was one of two teens police say were shot early Tuesday in the parking lot of an H-E-B supermarket in Elgin. The incident was at least the fourth this week in which young people were shot during an apparently safe, ordinary encounter, including a 6-year-old and her dadwounded over a reportedly errant basketball in North Carolina, a 16-year-old struck in the head after ringing a doorbell in Kansas City, and a 20-year-old killed allegedly by the owner of a home whose driveway she'd inadvertently turned into.

The other Texas cheerleader -- Washington's cheer teammate Heather Roth -- had gotten out of a friend's car in the parking lot and opened the driver's side door of a car she thought was hers, only to find a stranger sitting in the passenger seat, Roth told according toCNN affiliate KTRK.

As she tried to apologize to the man, he got out of the car and began shooting, Roth said during a prayer vigil Tuesday night, according to the affiliate.

Roth was also shot and was treated and released at the scene, Shearer said. Two other cheerleaders who were present have not been reported injured.

"So incredibly grateful for the love and support we have received the last couple days. its not been easy but we will come out the other side stronger than ever. everything we do is for you P," Roth wrote in anInstagram post Thursday.

Washington was stable in an intensive care unit as of Tuesday, according to a GoFundMe page set up by her team, the Woodlands Elite Generals. Washington's stomach had still not been closed up as doctors were giving her heavy antibiotics and waiting to be sure she would not get an infection, Shearer said Wednesday.

Police used witness accounts and surveillance footage to find a suspect in the shooting, 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., according to a police affidavit.

A supermarket manager witnessed the incident, and police have surveillance footage from the parking lot that shows the license plate on the suspect's car, police said, according to a probable cause affidavit.

When detectives arrived at Tello's home, his brother told them he was asleep inside and worked at H-E-B, according to the affidavit.

He was arrested early Tuesday on suspicion of deadly conduct with a firearm, a third-degree felony, according to a probable cause document, and held on a $500,000 bond. It was not immediately clear whether he has an attorney.

'I have no doubt she's going to get through this'

The shooting stunned the cheer team just days before they are set to compete in theAllstar World Championship in Orlando this weekend.

Roth is expected to compete, but Washington has had to come to terms with the fact that she won't be able to go with the team, Shearer said.

"So (Washington) was extremely, you know, up and down with her emotions. But she was talking and for the most part doing well," Shearer said.

Washington "has surpassed many obstacles to rise to the very top of her sport," Shearer said, including being born with only one lung.

She had committed to Baylor University's Acrobatics and Tumbling team. That team's coach visited Tuesday with Washington, who was making good progress, though her path to recovery had only just begun, the acrobatics team head coach Felecia Mulkey told CNN.

"Payton is a strong young lady; if you know her, you know that about her," Mulkey said. "I have no doubt she's going to get through this."

Washington is an "amazing athlete but a better human," Mulkey said.

Roth, who is in college, and Washington are from the Austin and Round Rock area and were commuting in a three-times-a-week carpool to a cheerleading gym in the Houston suburb of Oak Ridge North. Washington has been making the approximately 300-mile round trip commute for eight years, Shearer said.