Two teenage cheerleaders were shot after one said she mistook the suspect’s vehicle for her own in a supermarket parking lot near Texas’ capital – making this at least the third incident this week in which young people who’d made an apparent mistake were met with gunfire.
Authorities arrested Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., 25, the man they say shot the two teens. He was taken into custody early Tuesday, the Elgin Police Department said in a news release later that morning.
According to a probable cause document, Tello is accused of deadly conduct with a firearm, a third-degree felony. He is being held on a $500,000 bond. It was not immediately clear whether he has an attorney.
Officers responding just after midnight Tuesday to an H-E-B supermarket parking lot found two people in a vehicle who’d been struck by bullets, police said, citing preliminary reports. One with serious injuries was rushed by helicopter to a hospital and was in critical condition, while the other was treated at the scene, the release said.
The latter girl had gotten out of a friend’s car and opened the door to a vehicle she thought was hers, only to find a man sitting in the passenger seat, she said during a livestreamed prayer vigil Tuesday night at her cheer team’s gym, CNN affiliate KTRK reported.
Heather Roth said she was trying to apologize to the man when he got out of the passenger door.
“He just threw his hands up, and then he pulled out a gun and he just started shooting at all of us,” Roth said, fighting tears.
Lynne Shearer, managing partner of the Woodlands Elite Cheer Company, told CNN that Roth and fellow cheerleader Payton Washington fled immediately in their car.
“As soon as they saw the gun, they said go and they drove and they went about two miles down the road,” Shearer told CNN. “And that’s when they realized that Payton was seriously hurt and they pulled over once they realized that guy wasn’t following them because Payton was … throwing up blood at that point. So they, that’s when they called 911.”
Washington was shot twice and badly injured, according to a GoFundMe spearheaded by her cheerleading team, the Woodlands Elite Generals. Washington is stable and recovering in the ICU, according to the team.
Roth was struck by a bullet but was treated and released at the scene, Shearer said.
Washington is “doing well today” after suffering from a ruptured spleen, which was removed, and she has damage to her pancreas and diaphragm, Shearer said Wednesday.
“Her stomach is not closed up yet and they are keeping her on heavy antibiotics for at least 48 hours to hopefully fight off infection,” she said. “Once they are sure there is no infection, they will go back in and finish up any issues and close her up.”
In another interview with CNN, Shearer said Washington should make a full recovery and has been FaceTiming with her friends.
Roth and Washington are from the Austin and Round Rock area and were commuting in a carpool to a cheerleading gym in Oak Ridge North, a Houston suburb, three times a week.
The commute is about 300 miles round trip – a commute Washington has been doing for eight years, Shearer said.
Roth is in college, while the other three girls in the vehicle, including Washington, are in high school.
Washington, a senior who had committed to Baylor University’s Acrobatics and Tumbling team, was born with only one lung and “has surpassed many obstacles to rise to the very top of her sport,” Shearer said.
“Payton is a strong young lady; if you know her, you know that about her,” Baylor head acrobatics and tumbling coach Felecia Mulkey told CNN. “I have no doubt she’s going to get through this.”
After visiting Washington on Tuesday, Mulkey said all things considered, she looked great and is making good progress – but acknowledged there’s still a long way to go on her path to recovery.
Mulkey described Washington as an “amazing athlete but a better human.”
“I know mental wounds also leave scars,” she said. “We want to lift up the athletes and their families during this difficult time. We love Payton and we wish her well as she recovers.”
Shearer said her team is busy still trying to prepare for the World Championships this weekend in Orlando, which Roth still plans to compete in.
Tuesday’s shooting was yet another case this week in which young people were shot after apparently going to the wrong place, including a 16-year-old struck in the head after ringing the wrong doorbell in Kansas City and a 20-year-old killed by the owner of a home whose driveway she’d inadvertently turned into.
The United States is the only nation with more civilian guns than people, with about 120 guns for every 100 Americans, according to the Small Arms Survey. Elgin is a city of some 10,000 people about a half-hour drive east of Austin.
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 the probable cause affidavit.
“Elgin Detectives contacted Pedro Tello at the residence. Pedro Tello was still wearing the clothing that was observed by Elgin Detectives in the surveillance footage,” the affidavit states.
Detectives found a 9mm Mossberg pistol in the center console of a car used by the suspect, according to a search warrant inventory sheet. The search also yielded a 9mm round, spent casings and an empty ammunition magazine from the car or the suspect’s home, according to the document.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the person who Baylor’s head acrobatics and tumbling coach described visiting in the hospital. She was describing Payton Washington.