Payton Washington, the Texas cheerleader who was shot after her friend mistakenly opened the door of the wrong car, said on Friday’s broadcast of “Good Morning America” that she tried to stay calm during the incident even though she was seriously injured.
Washington, 18, was with three of her teammates when she sustained three gunshot wounds in the early morning hours of April 18 in a supermarket parking lot in Elgin, Texas.
Another member of the Woodlands Elite Cheer Co., 21-year-old Heather Roth, had opened the door of a vehicle, mistaking it for her own, but then saw a stranger in the passenger seat, according to statements she made after the encounter.
Roth said she then left that car and joined her teammates in her own vehicle when the stranger, later identified by police as 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., approached them. Roth said she tried to apologize for her mistake but said that the man started shooting at the cheerleaders.
In a new interview with “Good Morning America,” Washington recalled the moment when she and her friends were attacked, saying she was texting and eating Twizzlers right before the shooting took place.
“I heard in the background what was happening, but I didn’t think it was going to be as big of a deal as it was,” Washington said, remembering Roth’s words to the man. “She just kept saying,‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.’ That was the last thing really said.”
The cheerleaders sped away while the man continued firing at the car, and Washington told “GMA” that she started having difficulty breathing.
“All the other girls were screaming. I really was just telling myself to breathe. It was hard to breathe,” Washington said. “I was trying to stay as calm as possible for the other people in the car. I could tell how sad and scared they were.”
She said she realized that she had been shot when she saw blood on her seat, and the driver pulled over when Washington started to throw up.
Washington was eventually airlifted to a hospital, where she was admitted to the intensive care unit in critical condition and treated for two gunshot wounds in her right buttock and one in her back. She remained in the hospital for three weeks.
“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,” Washington said. “I had 32 staples.”
Roth, who was grazed by a bullet, was treated but not hospitalized, and the other cheerleaders survived without injuries, police said.
Washington told “GMA” that her physical recovery has been difficult, and so has the emotional toll of suddenly requiring so much physical assistance.
“Can’t get out of bed by yourself, can’t roll off the couch, can’t stand by yourself. Going up the stairs, I would get winded,” the cheerleader said, adding that she had healed enough recently to make it to her high school graduation.
Rodriguez has been charged with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony. His attorney, Charles Baird, said in a statement to HuffPost that Rodriguez was released on bail, which was initially set at $500,000 but reduced to $100,000. He has yet to enter a plea.
According to the statement, Rodriguez had been “startled” during the encounter and believed he was going to be robbed, with his attorney saying that he was previously robbed by a woman at gunpoint.
Baird added that after the incident with the cheerleaders, Rodriguez voluntarily surrendered to authorities and gave up his gun.
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