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EXCLUSIVE
Guns in America

Dad of cheerleader shot after her friend got into the wrong car says shooter fired immediately

The shooting unfolded early Tuesday outside an H-E-B supermarket in Elgin, Texas, as four girls were heading home after cheerleading practice.
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The Texas cheerleader who was shot after a friend mistakenly got into the wrong car in a supermarket parking lot is now recovering in the intensive care unit, her father said in an interview Wednesday. He described the star athlete, born with just one lung, as "tough as they come."

Payton Washington, 18, was shot in the leg and the back in the gunfire that erupted around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday in an H-E-B parking lot in Elgin, her father, Kelan Washington, said.

Payton Washington, a cheerleader at Woodlands Elite Cheer Co., was heading home from practice with three friends when they were shot at, allegedly by a 25-year-old suspect, who has since been arrested.

Kelan Washington said one girl was grazed by a bullet and treated and released at the scene, but Payton suffered more serious injuries. She was transported via helicopter to a hospital in critical condition, Elgin police said.

Payton’s father said doctors removed her spleen and she’s now stable in the ICU at Dell Seton Medical Center at The University of Texas in Austin.

“Payton’s accomplished everything she has with only one lung [from] when she was born. She’s as tough as they come,” he said.

The shooting

The shooting unfolded as four cheerleaders with Woodlands Elite Cheer Co. stopped at an H-E-B parking lot, where some of the members had parked their cars, on their commute home from practice, Lynn Shearer, owner of Woodland’s Elite Cheer Co., told NBC affiliate KXAN of Austin.

Kelan Washington said the H-E-B was a "designated carpool site." He said Payton had been going to Woodlands Elite in Houston for almost 10 years and was very familiar with the commute from Houston to her home in Round Rock, about 170 miles away.

At the H-E-B, one of the girls accidentally tried to get into the wrong car, Shearer said.

That’s when, she said, a “guy got out and they saw that he had a gun. And so they tried to speed off, and he shot his gun, like five times or so into the car.”

Payton's father verified Shearer's account about the mistaken car.

“He raised his hands and then brandished his weapon and then just started shooting at the girls,” Kelan Washington said, noting the shooter didn't say anything before firing.

He expressed shock that the shooter resorted to opening fire.

"You watched her walk up to your door on accident — it's a girl in a cheer outfit," he said.

Elgin police said in a statement, "Information suggests that an altercation occurred in the parking lot of HEB, and multiple shots were fired into a vehicle." Two of the girls in the car were struck by gunfire.

A suspect, Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., 25, was taken into custody and charged with deadly conduct. The investigation is ongoing, police said.

Kelan Washington said the other girls are doing “fine” in the wake of the shooting and are supporting his daughter.

“They’re family. Those girls are Payton’s sisters basically in spirit and in team camaraderie,” he said. “Of course they’re very concerned about their sister, they’re very concerned about their leader. Payton was the leader of this cheer squad in Houston.”

A lead cheerleader who won a tumbling scholarship

Since news of the shooting, there's been an outpouring of support on social media for the cheerleaders affected.

A prayer organized by Woodlands Elite was held Tuesday. Meanwhile, a GoFundMe page organized by the Woodlands Elite Generals to help raise money to cover Payton Washington's hospital costs had raised more than $71,000 as of Wednesday.

Payton Washington has been a star athlete since she was a toddler, always looking for the next challenge, her father said.

She started gymnastics when she was just 18 months old, but then “she wanted more dynamic movement.”

“She gravitated towards watching cheer and tumbling and just felt like she had to do it. She had to get over there and learn how to execute that stuff. She really had to learn how to throw all those moves she can as a left-hander. And she did it on her own,” her father said.

A senior in high school, she's already secured a tumbling scholarship to attend Baylor University after graduation.

Payton Washington has another surgery to undergo. Though she's heavily sedated and "in and out," she's been able to talk with her many visitors when she's awake, her father said.

He said the family is leaning on their faith and "Payton's undeniable will not to settle for anything."

The family is also grateful for the support they've received from the community and beyond.

"Just everybody rallying around Payton, it’s pretty refreshing," he said.

He called his daughter "beautiful inside and out. She makes everybody around her a better person, a better athlete, a better student, a better Christian. All of it." 

Speaking about the shooter, Kelan Washington said his family wants "accountability for sure."

"This young man has to deal with the next call, his own recollection and reflection of what he’s done and whatever God has for him," he said. "That’s a sentence in itself that he has to work through."