Elgin Police Department
A suspect is in custody after two elite high school cheerleaders were shot — one critically wounded — in a Texas supermarket parking lot after one 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. has been charged with “deadly conduct,” a third-degree felony. This is 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 increased fees may apply.”
Police said officers were dispatched to the HEB parking lot around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday after reports of shots fired. While there, they received another call about a shooting victim about 2 miles away and determined the two incidents were related.
“Information indicates that an altercation occurred in the HEB parking lot and multiple shots were fired at a vehicle,” police said, adding that two of the occupants were hit.
One was treated and released at the scene, while the other suffered serious injuries and remains in hospital in critical condition.
Woodlands Elite Cheer Co. — a competitive cheer and recreational acrobatics company with several locations in Texas and other states — confirmed on social media that “4 of our girls were involved in a horrific accident on the way home from practice last night.”
They identified the critically injured cheerleader as Peyton Washington, who they described as an “icon” of the cheerleading world.
“We ask for your prayers for Peyton, Keyona, Heather and Genesis,” they added. “Also big prayers for Peyton as he recovers please.”
The company urged the cheer community to wear red in support, and has since shared dozens of Instagram stories from teams as helpful as New York and Indiana.
What happened in the parking lot?
Details of the incident are beginning to emerge as those close to him share on social media and local news outlets. It was also captured on surveillance footage that has not yet been released.
The four cheerleaders use HEB as a carpool spot when they make the roughly 360-mile round trip from Round Rock to Oak Ridge for practices several times a week, according to ABC13.
Cheerleader Heather Roth said on Instagram Live that she and three of her teammates arrived at the venue shortly after midnight, ABC News reports.
Roth opened the door of what she thought was her car, but saw a man sitting in the passenger seat and instead quickly retreated to her friend’s car. 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 after the girls saw he had a gun, “they tried to run away and he fired … five times or so into the car.”
Roth was grazed by a bullet. Washington was shot in the leg and back.
“Peyton opens the door and she starts throwing up blood,” Roth said.
An HEB 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 “throughout the night” to identify and track him down.
Tuesday’s incident comes on the heels of two other high-profile cases of young people being shot after allegedly approaching the wrong house, which have renewed focus and debate around “stand your ground” laws.
Sixteen-year-old Ralph Jarl was critically injured in a shooting after ringing the wrong doorbell while picking up his siblings in Kansas City, Missouri, last week, while 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis was killed in upstate New York after the car, in that she was in, mistakenly stopped in the wrong lane. Her friends quickly realized their mistake and were turning around when the homeowner fired twice into their car.
Star cheerleader faces ‘long road to recovery’
Woodlands wrote on a GoFundMe for Washington’s medical expenses that she “is stable in the ICU and will have a long road to recovery.”
A trainer said on Instagram Live that Washington suffered multiple organ damage, 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 tumbling and acrobatics team in the fall and was days away from competing at her final Worlds of Cheerleading in Orlando, Woodlands Elite Cheer owner Lynn Shearer told FOX 7.
“She’s won every title she can win in All-Star cheer except for the world title, so that makes it super heartbreaking for her,” Shearer said, adding that the team still plans to participate in the championships and “Definitely everyone will be competing for her.”
She praised Washington’s strength, noting that the athlete was born with one lung and has overcome her share of challenges to become an icon in the world of cheerleading stars.
“She’s a mentor and a role model for so many kids in this industry,” she told KHOU 11. “She’s an amazing athlete, an 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 incredible athlete, but a better person,” telling FOX 7 in a statement that “there’s no doubt in my mind she’ll get through this.”
“My prayers are with Peyton and her teammates who were involved in last night’s tragic event,” she added. “I know that mental wounds also leave scars.”