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The Carpool

The carpool, front to back and left to right: Keyona, Payton, Genesis, Heather

A lot has been reported about the horrific shooting that took place earlier this week and left Woodlands Elite’s Payton Washington without a spleen, multiple organs effected and in an ICU this Worlds' weekend. She is expected to recover according to her trauma surgeon but has a long hard road ahead of her.

We know there were three other athletes in the car that a gunman shot into but little more about them. This is a story about Genesis, Keyona and Heather (above).

Keyona was the driver of the car whose quick thinking and steady reaction has been credited with getting the carpool safely out of danger and preventing what could have been a much worse attack.

“I'm so proud of her,” Keyona's mom Stephanie Huebel said. “Instead of freezing up, Keyona got them away to safety and called 911.”

Then she helped her friend who was bleeding beside her.

“Keyona saw the bullet hole in Payton's back but didn't say anything,” Stephanie said. “Payton didn't know about that one and Keyona wanted to help keep her calm because she was vomiting blood and bleeding out while they waited for first responders.”

“Police arrived quickly but it was a good 30-45 minutes from the shooting until the helicopter took off to the hospital,” the mom said.

The other injured athlete was Heather Roth whose thigh was grazed. She was treated and released at the scene.

According to Heather, in a news report with ABC 13 in Elgin, TX:

"After the carpool arrived at its designated stop, she got out of Keyona’s car and opened the door to a vehicle she believed to be her own in the H-E-B parking lot.

Roth said there was a man sitting in the passenger seat, so she initially panicked, thinking a stranger was inside her car, and got back into her friend's vehicle.

When she noticed the man approach their vehicle, she said she rolled down the window to apologize, telling him she thought it was her car. Roth said the man threw up his hands, pulled out a gun, and started shooting."

That’s when Keyona drove away as fast as she could.

“Keyona’s quick thinking and reaction to get them out of there fast definitely saved lives,” Stephanie said.

While she was holding the steering wheel, two bullets flew between her arms. One hit the steering wheel and the other hit her door near the window controls.

“Her being tall and skinny, positioned her just right so she wasn't close to the steering wheel,” Keyona’s mom said. “By the grace of God, both bullets went between her arms.”

Genesis, was the fourth in the carpool.

Like Keyona, Genesis was spared a bullet but she and the others are dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. PTSD is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event.

“Yes” Keyona’s mom said, “the PTSD is awful.”

Shephanie and I shared details off-the record but I'll share some of my personal experience here for reference about what it is like to live with PTSD:

When I was 22 I was attacked at gun point. I experienced all the above but mostly I became clingy towards my roommate and fiancé. I couldn't be out in public alone. I left college my senior year and broke up with my fiance. I was suicidal and sought counselling. I was put on medication and learned stress-releasing skills. I felt disconnected and afraid. I'd burst into tears and was unreliable; fine one day, unhinged another.

After one of these crying jags, as I was beginning my shift at the mostly-college aged staffed restaurant, I told my manager 'I just couldn't do it.' She told me she'd forgiven several missed shifts already and she'd have to let me go if I didn't work that day. I walked out on a fun job and good friends.

More than one person, several close to me, would say 'I should be over it/get over it already.' But there's no timeline for healing from trauma, especially random gun violence.

With much effort, I finished my degree the next year and about four years later, I was relatively “normal” but I was never the same. It was still years before I'd take a walk alone or go into an elevator with a stranger.

I certainly know I couldn’t have competed in the most prestigious comp in the world that same week as Keyona, Heather and Genesis will do tomorrow: Keyona with Woodlands Elite's Red Angels at 10:20 in Arena Red. Heather and Genesis will compete with their team the Generals at 1:45 in the Field House.

There’s a sense that cheerleaders can pull it together and overcome whatever faces them, but Keyona’s mom admits that’s not the case this time.

“These girls have been through so much trauma, it's devastating,” Stephanie said. “They are really struggling being at Cheerleading Worlds this weekend especially with Payton still in the hospital back in Austin.”

In the GoFundMe account that has been established by Keyona’s aunts, it reads “As we look to support Keyona, Payton, Genesis, and Heather through the trauma of this senseless act, many have asked how you can help. Our top priority is helping support the girls mentally and physically in resuming their vibrant lives and future.”

There’s also a more practical way to help: replacing Keyona’s car. Even if insurance determined it “totaled” the thought of getting back into that bullet riddled car has to be immensely upsetting.

Keyona and her family will receive insurance money, but with rising costs these days, a large portion will have to come out of pocket. If you would like to help donate towards Keyona’s replacement vehicle and help ease some of the out of pocket cost this would truly help her.”

“Everyone’s prayers are greatly appreciated,” said Stephanie. “I want to thank everyone again for the outpouring of love and support.”

If you’d like to make a contribution to the replacement of the car that got the girls safely away as it was riddled with bullets, go to:


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