Twenty-five-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr. is being charged with deadly conduct after shooting at a group of teenage cheerleaders after one of them accidentally tried to get in the vehicle he was in – thinking it was hers. Two of the cheerleaders were shot, one of which is in critical condition and the other was grazed.
On April 18, Heather Roth and several of her friends were on their way home from cheerleading practice when they arrived at an H-E-B supermarket in Elgin, Texas – a designated carpool site for the group of friends. Roth was about to get in what she thought was her vehicle when things took a turn for the worse.
“I just saw a black figure in the passenger seat, and I just shut the door as fast as I could,” she said of the moment she realized it wasn’t her vehicle. She immediately ran back to the car that her friends were in and attempted to apologize to the man, but he wasted no time in grabbing a gun and firing it five times.
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“I see the guy get out of the passenger door. And I rolled my window down, and I was trying to apologize to him… and my window was halfway down, and he just threw his hands up and he pulled out a gun, and then he just started shooting at all of us,” she explained at a vigil at Woodland’s Elite Cheer Company.
Heather Roth was grazed in the leg by one of the bullets, while her friend, Payton Washington, was shot twice and sustained serious injuries. She was airlifted to a nearby hospital and underwent surgery to remove her spleen – she’s recovering 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,” her father, Kelan Washington, told NBC News. He added that he hopes the suspect is held accountable for his actions – adding there was no reason for him to pull out a gun and start shooting.
The incident comes less than a week after two similar incidents – one that saw 16-year-old Ralph Yarl shot in the head after accidentally ringing the wrong doorbell on April 13 and another that saw 20-year-old Kaylin Gillis shot and killed in her vehicle after her boyfriend accidentally pulled into the wrong driveway.
Payton’s Fellow Cheerleaders Show Their Support
In his interview with NBC News, Kelan Washington talked about how close his daughter was to her fellow cheerleaders and how they treated one another like family. “Those girls are Payton’s sisters basically in spirit and in team camaraderie,” he said – adding she was ‘the leader of this cheer squad in Houston.’
The owner of Woodlands Elite Cheer Company, Lynne Shearer, shared that sentiment and described the cheerleaders as family – having coached them since they were 8-10 years old. They were practicing for an upcoming competition in Florida, but now they’ll have to do it without their unquestioned leader.
“She’s literally one of the very best that’s ever done this sport. She won’t be competing this weekend unfortunately she has more surgeries in front of her,” she said to KPRC – adding that Payton has an impressive list of accolades and is viewed as a role model to a lot of young cheerleaders in the industry.
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If you’d like to support Payton Washington and her family, the Woodlands Elite Generals have started a GoFundMe page to help ‘ease the financial burden to this family of their medical expenses.’ The page has already raised $105,000 of its original goal of $100,000 – receiving nearly 2,000 donations in one day.
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