Texas cheerleader recounts moment she was shot after friend got into wrong car

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A Texas cheerleader who was shot after her friend opened the door of the wrong car has opened up about the traumatising ordeal.

Payton Washington, 18, was shot allegedly by 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez in an act of random violence in the city of Elgin on 18 April. Before the violence unfolded, Payton had parked in a grocery store parking lot which serves as a carpool pickup spot for members of their cheerleading team.

Heather Roth, one of four team members transferring rides in the lot after practice, told authorities she got out of a friend’s car and into a car she thought was her own, but there was a stranger in the passenger seat. She said she panicked and got back into her friend’s car, but the man got out of his vehicle, pulled out a gun and opened fire.

Speaking to ABC’s Good Morning America, Ms Washington, who suffered three gunshot wounds to her lower back and leg, said the recovery process has been physically and emotionally challenging but added that she is coping as best she can.

Ms Washington said she only realised where she had been shot after her friend pulled over and she saw blood on her own seat. She then began coughing up blood on the side of the road and had to be airlifted to a hospital in Austin to treat life-threatening damage to her stomach, spleen, diaphragm and pancreas.

“I knew somewhere, I was bleeding, but I had so much to juggle, I didn’t know where,” Ms Washington recalled in the interview aired on Friday. “And then, whenever we pulled over … I was throwing up blood and I was like, ‘Oop, that is not normal.’”

Ms Washington said that she was texting and eating Twizzlers when the suspect opened fire on her and her friends.

Mr Rodriguez has been charged with engaging in deadly conduct, a third-degree felony. He reportedly surrendered to police and was released after his bail was lowered from $500,000 to $100,000.

An attorney for Mr Rodriguez told Insider that his client was an employee at the grocery store. Mr Rodriguez claimed through his lawyer that he had previously been robbed at gunpoint while inside his vehicle and feared that a similar situation was unfolding when the teen entered the car by mistake.

Peyton Washington had to be airlifted to a hospital in Austin to treat life-threatening damage to herstomach, spleen, diaphragm and pancreas

(Peyton Washington )

“I didn’t see him, honestly. I was still looking at my phone,” Ms Washington told GMA. “I kind of heard what was going on in the background but I didn’t think it’d be as big of a deal as it was. [Ms Roth] just kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.”

Ms Roth was grazed by a bullet as one of the other three teens who were inside the vehicle drove away in a desperate attempt to escape the shots being fired at the group.

This image provided by the Elgin Police Department shows Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr. who is charged with engaging in deadly conduct

(Elgin Police Department)

“I was just telling myself to breathe, it was hard to breathe because of my diaphragm,“ Ms Washington recounted. “I was just trying to stay as calm as possible for the other people in the car. I could tell how sad and scared they were.”

The accomplished athlete said she had struggled in the aftermath of the shooting to come to terms with her new temporary physical limitations amid an intensive and arduous recovery.

“My spleen was shattered. My stomach had two holes in it. And my diaphragm had two holes in it. And then they had to remove a lobe from my pancreas. I had 32 staples,” she recounted. “It was hard. It hurting to walk or stand when a week before I was doing a bunch of flips, running, the track … can’t get out of bed by yourself, can’t roll off the couch, can’t stand by yourself … it was hard.”

Ms Washington, who graduated last week, said she is determined to make a full recovery and go back to cheerleading soon.

“You can literally do anything if you push and you persevere,” she told GMA. “Don’t doubt yourself ever because you can do anything as long as you’re putting your 120 per cent into it.”

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