ROUND ROCK, Texas — Payton Washington, one of the Texas cheerleaders who was shot in the parking lot of an Elgin H-E-B in April, has graduated high school.
Washington sat down for an interview with "Good Morning America" co-anchor Michael Strahan, where she spoke out for the first time since the attack that left her in critical condition.
Just after midnight on April 18, Washington and three of her fellow Woodlands Elite Cheer Company teammates were on their way back home to Central Texas after practice in the Houston area.
In the parking lot of the Elgin H-E-B, one of Washington's teammates, Heather Roth, opened the door of a vehicle that she thought was hers. A man, later identified as Pedro Tello Rodriguez Jr., was in the passenger seat.
Roth said she got out of the car and went back to her friend's vehicle. Authorities say Rodriguez allegedly approached the vehicle and when Roth rolled down the window to apologize, he opened fire. He injured Roth and shot Washington three times.
Washington told Strahan she acted on instinct in the moment.
"I turned immediately with my blanket," she said. "I didn't know where it was coming from or anything, but it being so loud that my ears were ringing, I knew to turn and do something."
As the cheerleaders drove off, Washington told Strahan that she was having trouble breathing and realized she had been shot.
Rodriguez allegedly fled the scene but was later arrested at his home. He has since been charged with deadly conduct, a third-degree felony. He is currently released on bail and has yet to enter a plea, according to Good Morning America.
Washington was helicoptered to a hospital near Austin in critical condition. She told Strahan that her spleen was shattered, her stomach and diaphragm each had two holes in them and doctors had to remove a lobe from her pancreas. In all, she had 32 staples.
Prior to the shooting, Washington had recently been accepted to Baylor University, set to join the school's acrobatics and tumbling team in the fall. Going from that to having difficulty doing simple things like standing alone has been challenging, Washington said.
“It was hard … hurting to walk or stand is really weird when, a week before, you were doing a bunch of flips, running the track, and doing long jump, and all this stuff,” Washington told Strahan.
But now she is moving forward. Just five weeks after the shooting, she joined her friends at graduation from Stony Point High School in Round Rock.
“You can literally do anything if you push and you persevere,” she told Strahan. “Don't doubt yourself ever because you can do anything as long as you're putting your 120% into it.”