(CNN) — 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 dad wounded 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 to CNN 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.
Witness recounts hearing three to four shots
A witness told CNN on Thursday the suspect fired three to four shots as they drove away.
The man — who asked not to be named due to safety concerns — said he was sitting in his car and was on the phone talking to his family abroad at about midnight on Monday when he saw car lights turn on about 100 feet in front of him and then heard gunshots.
He remembers seeing the suspect standing outside the vehicle and firing his gun as the cheerleaders drove out of the parking lot.
“After that, [the suspect] also started following them by starting his car and follow[ing] their car,” the witness said.
The witness said he didn’t see the interaction between the cheerleaders and the suspect before the gunfire.
He didn’t call 911 because someone said they had already been alerted to the shooting, said the man, who works in the area. The first officer arrived in less than two minutes, he added.
Roth was wounded but didn’t need to go to the hospital
Roth, who was also shot, 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 an Instagram 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, Pedro’s brother told them “he was home asleep, and his brother Pedro drives the Nissan which was parked in the front yard,” according to the affidavit. Pedro was supposed to be at work at H-E-B, he told detectives, the document says.
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 the Allstar 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.