“I stared down the barrel of a gun, and I thought my life was over at one point,” said SUNY Cortland junior Kyle Richard, who recalled the night he stopped an alleged rape attempt at a party in Uniondale.
Former Vice President Joe Biden recognized Richard at the national Biden Courage Awards in Manhattan on April 18. The award he received honors young adults who work to prevent sexual assault.
At the party last July, a friend told Richard, a Malverne High School alumnus, that a woman was screaming for help in the bathroom. He and a friend, Sulaiman Ania, broke the door open, and saw the attacker with his hand around the woman’s neck, an image that remains in Richard’s head. “It was sickening,” he said. “The moment I opened the door, there was just a lot of negative energy.”
The man let the woman go and left the bathroom, and Richard confronted him outside the house. What angered Richard most, he recounted, was the grin on the attacker’s face. Then the man pulled out a gun, shot three times and ran away. Richard was hit once in each leg, and the third bullet whistled past him.
Despite his wounds, however, “I couldn’t help but think how that girl was feeling,” Richard said. “She was really in shock, and it was almost as if she thought it was her fault. I remember telling her before I left that it’s not your fault. Even though I was in a lot of pain, that’s all I could think of.”
Shortly after Richard returned to the house, he heard more shots. Another friend, Michael Abiola, had been shot twice, once in his left arm and once in his back. Abiola said he had left the party to pick up food, and when he returned, the attacker came back and shot aimlessly owutside the house.
An ambulance rushed the two friends to the Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, where both were treated. “I’m just glad that I have the friends that I do, and that we were able to stop that situation from happening,” Richard said.
Despite what happened to him, Abiola said he was thankful that his friends intervened. “When they told me that they had stopped the rape attempt, and that they were also shot at, it didn’t surprise me at all, not in the slightest, because that’s exactly what I would have done,” said Abiola, whose arm has remained partially paralyzed since the shooting. “That’s just kind of how we were raised. I consider both of them to be my brothers.”
A linebacker and varsity team captain for SUNY Cortland’s football team, Richard thought his football career was over. He was told that the bullets missed major arteries by only a few millimeters. But he returned to the field last September, and finished the season with 75 tackles, the second-most on his team, according to the school’s website. He dedicated his season to Abiola.
Before the incident, Richard said, he didn’t realize how often there are bystanders during a rape. “I don’t understand how that could happen,” he said, “but there’s a culture out there . . . and we have to stop that. I’m only 20 years old, but our generation has to be the change.”
Richard, who was also awarded the Next Generation Award in March at an upstate gala for Kristin’s Fund — a Deerfield, N.Y., charity that aims to end domestic violence through prevention, education and awareness campaigns — said that the incident inspired him to speak out.
“Character-wise, he’s always been a great young man,” Malverne High School varsity football coach Kito Lockwood said of Richard. “Off the field, he understood what it meant to be a good person and a good citizen. That’s one thing we emphasize in our program. You can be a great football player, but we want you to be a better person.”
Abiola, who also played high school football with Richard, said that his therapists expect him to regain 90 percent of the mobility in his arm within the next few months. He said he hoped Richard continues to receive recognition for risking his life.
“He doesn’t like being called a hero,” Abiola said, “but at the end of the day, he did what it takes to save someone. I don’t know if there’s a better definition of hero.”
“It’s not something I asked for,” Richard said. “I’m a small-town guy. It’s kind of a different life that I have with all this recognition. But with it, I understand that I have a lot of responsibility.”