Last July, Kyle Richard, a junior linebacker at SUNY Cortland in upstate New York, went to a party on Long Island with some friends from high school.
When a group of strangers showed up, Richard decided to head home, recounts the university’s website. But when he was walking out the door, he heard a woman crying and screaming inside a nearby bathroom.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” he told BuzzFeed News. “I just knew something was up.”
Richard and his friend decided to take action. They broke through the bathroom door and found a man holding a woman by the neck. They separated the victim from the assailant.
When the linebacker was trying to talk to the woman, her attacker ran outside, and Richard and his friend gave chase. When they confronted him in the front yard, the man drew a gun and fired two shots, hitting Richard once in each leg.
The 20-year-old kinesiology major said he heard a third shot fly past his left ear.
“I had to say something,” he said. “If I didn’t confront that kid, I couldn’t live with myself.”
On Wednesday, Richard’s heroics were recognized by former Vice President Joe Biden when he was presented with the Biden Courage Award for Bystander Intervention at a ceremony in New York.
“I didn’t think I was going to receive an award, because I was just doing something that anybody should do,” Richard told CNN.
The bullets in Richard’s legs missed major arteries and bones by millimeters, according to the SUNY Cortland article.
He spent 20 hours in the hospital and then went through an intense program of rehabilitation so he could return to the football field in the fall.
Richard, the varsity team captain, missed the season opener but finished the season with 75 tackles, three sacks and a pair of fumble recoveries.
The incident in Long Island had a lasting impact on him: Richard has become an advocate for victims of sexual assault. He was the guest speaker at Utica College’s “Take Back the Night” march in April, and he’s been involved with sexual assault awareness events on the SUNY Cortland campus and in the community.
His coaches had drilled a message into him during practice: “Don’t be a bystander. Step up.” Richard put those words into action when it mattered most.
“It’s not hard to be somebody who takes action. All it takes is the first action,” he said. “All it takes is for you to say something. Words do matter and sometimes all it takes is a word or two. You don’t have to do full-on what I did, but you could say something. That’s not being a bystander.”
Miriam Sholder, Nassau County district attorney’s office spokeswoman, told Newsday the assault case is pending.
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