Member of Woodlands Elite Cheer Co. in ICU after shot while traveling near Austin; another grazed by bullet

THE WOODLANDS, Texas – Members of a Houston area cheer team traveling near Austin became victims Monday night when a suspect opened fire on their vehicle, shooting two of them, leaving one seriously injured.

One of the girls was grazed on her leg by a bullet.

She spoke during a prayer vigil Tuesday night at Woodland’s Elite Cheer Company in Oak Ridge, where the team practices.

“I just saw a black figure in the passenger seat, and I just shut the door as fast as I could,” said Heather.

Heather said she approached the vehicle thinking it was her car, but when she noticed the man on the passenger side, she ran back to the car with the other girls.

“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 said.

The girls had carpooled to the Houston area to practice for a cheer competition in Florida. They were at an H-E-B located at 1080 E. US 290 when the incident happened around 12:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Lynne Shearer, owner of Woodland’s Elite Cheer Co., said Payton Washington sustained serious injuries and was transported to the hospital by helicopter, where she was in critical condition.

Shearer shared that Washington is recovering but will miss the competition she had been working hard to win.

“She’s won every title there is to win in all-star cheerleading. She’s literally a role model for kids in this industry. Throughout the country, everybody knows her,” said Shearer.

“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,” said Shearer.

Officers worked through the night to identify and locate the suspect, 25-year-old Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr.

He was taken into custody and charged with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony. Police said additional charges could be filed.

A post on the team’s official Facebook page read, “4 of our girls were involved in a horrific incident on their way home after practice last night. We are asking for your prayers for Payton, Keyona, Heather & Genesis. Also, Big prayers for Payton as she recovers, please. Please keep these girls and our WE cheer family in your thoughts and prayers. WE appreciate our cheer community.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up for Washington, asking for donations to aid in her recovery.

That post read, “Three of our Generals and one Red Angel were viciously shot at last night in a random act of violence. Payton was shot twice and badly injured. She is stable in the ICU and will have a long road to recovery. Please consider helping to ease the financial burden to this family of their medical expenses. We ask that you keep our athletes in your prayers at this devastating time.”

Washington was interviewed in 2021 about her accomplishments and ambition.

In the video, which can be found on Youtube, she is lauded for her tenacity and determination.

The description reads, “For Payton, cheer is serious business and she travels several hours a week to compete on Generals, a Level 6 team from Woodlands Elite. Payton is no stranger to adversity, but she doesn’t let that slow her down when it comes to setting big goals- on and off the mat.”

Washington has accepted an offer to join the Baylor University’s athletic and tumbling team in the fall.

About the Authors:

Mother of two. Award-winning lover of digital storytelling, sparked by my fascination of being a fashionable gossip like my favorite "Willona Woods" character from "Good Times." On the serious side, president of the Houston Association of Black Journalists and dedicated community servant. Happy to share the news with you each and every day!