NEW YORK (FOX 5 NY) - There are the sheep, the wolves, and the sheepdogs—or the protectors. That's how Sandra Richard breaks down the types of people in the world.
It's easy to see what category she falls into. Sandra is a police sergeant, employed by the Nassau County Police Department for almost three decades. She has dedicated her life to protecting others. It's only natural she would instill the same doctrine in her three sons.
Late July 2017, those values would be put to the ultimate test. Her son Kyle nearly lost his life preventing the sexual assault of a complete stranger.
In the early morning hours of July 23 in Uniondale, as Richard and one of his best friends, Sulaiman Aina, went to leave a house party, the pair heard muffled screams coming from the bathroom.
"This is an ongoing investigation," Kyle said. "There's not so many details that could be put out there. But it was clear as day if I could put it that way."
Aina went to the door and managed to prop it open.
"There was a guy and he was trying to assault a girl," Kyle said. "So we broke it up, Sulaiman got to the perpetrator. I went to the girl to figure out what happened and when I realized what was going on, I went to confront the perpetrator."
The assailant pulled out a gun and shot at Kyle three times. One bullet flew past his head. The other two tore through each of his legs—one through his left quad and one through his right hamstring. The bullets missed both of his femoral arteries by millimeters.
"My mind was, 'I got to go, I got to get... I got to get out of here. It's not my time right now,'" Kyle said. "It was just, I needed to just survive. I was just pretty much fighting for my life at that point."
As Kyle was rushed to Nassau University Medical Center, his thoughts were on others. His mother and another childhood friend, Michael Abiola, who arrived at the party during the aftermath was shot in the shoulder. He was simply at the wrong place at the wrong time.
"The first thing was my mom," Kyle said. "I'm like, 'How I'm going to tell her what just happened?'"
Kyle didn't get a chance to tell his mother. A paramedic who knew Sandra called to tell her. It was the worst phone call of her life.
"I've dealt with that sort of situation at work but never with a family and you know it's my son," Sandra said. "So it was very stressful for me."
Sandra lives 40 to 45 minutes away from the emergency room. She made it in 20.
she said that when the dust settled and Sandra realized what had transpired, she couldn't have been prouder of her son.
"That's how I tried to raise my boys that sometimes people need someone to step up to help them. This world is made up of all different people, some people need protection and some people are the protectors," Sandra said. "Thank God for the protectors that there are people that need us because it gives us purpose."
In a way, Kyle's battle had just begun. The rising junior at SUNY Cortland was a first-year captain for the Red Dragons football program. He was shot just a few weeks out from when the linebacker was set to report for camp. While his upbringing taught him to protect, football gave him strength and would serve as a catalyst for his comeback.
His mother didn't expect Kyle to return to football—at least not that season.
"I did not think that was remotely possible because he could barely walk," Sandra said. "Even though he tried to hide the fact that he was in pain, I could see it."
Sandra also knows her son well enough to know he wouldn't listen to anyone who tried to tell him he wouldn't play football that season.
Kyle began intense physical therapy at Bethpage Physical Therapy clinic on Long Island and with the athletic training staff at SUNY Cortland.
"With Kayla Simpson, who was my athletic trainer. She was a student at Cortland. She was pushing me to do my best and she was killing me, crushing me on the sideline," Kyle said. "Pat Donnelly, who was the head trainer who's been by my side through it all. Now he's seen it all."
While Kyle has an older brother and a younger brother who supported him through the ordeal, his brothers on the field helped him to stay focused on his return as well.
"When you have defensive backs doing their drills and they're looking at you and they're yelling at you like, 'Come on, Kyle I see you. I see you Kyle,' I had a whole bunch of support," Kyle said. "Everybody was making sure I was good and cheering me on. Even if I wasn't going to get back to 100 percent—they knew I was going to be back on the field and I had a feeling too."
Kyle would miss just the first game of the regular season.
"It was an emotional day for me because I was like, well, 'I can't believe I'm playing football,'" Kyle said. "I couldn't believe that at the moment when it first happened, I didn't even know what was going to happen in my life. Then I was able to get back on a football field with all my brothers."
According to the school's website, in nine starts, Richard would record 75 tackles (40 solo)—good for second on the team.
"Something about football, it just drives you to just do more than you think you can," Kyle said. "Even if it was a long drive, which kills anybody on the football field, it was like just fight through. It was just football mentality. You just get through. You don't complain about anything."
Just getting through the season wasn't necessarily as simple, nor was it easy. There were clear reminders of what had happened—the bullet wounds when he undressed and the searing pain of a helmet hit to one of his legs.
On the days he needed extra strength, he thought of his former Malverne High School teammate, Mike, who was dealing with nerve damage as a result of the bullet wound.
In arguably one of the most difficult periods of his life, Kyle continued to think of others, including victims of gun violence and sexual assault.
With some encouragement from his coach at SUNY Cortland, Dan MacNeil, who has two daughters of his own, Kyle decided to start to share his story. Kyle had found his purpose off the field.
Sandra, along with her other sons Jordan and Mason, heard Kyle speak for the first time at the Kristen's Fund Gala the following spring where he was the recipient of the 2018 Next Generation Award. She was floored.
"We all just looked at each other and we couldn't believe that's Kyle up there speaking so eloquently in front of this big group," Sandra said. "We all asked him, 'How did you do that?' We were all so shocked and he goes, 'I do this all the time at football, I speak in front of a hundred players on a regular basis. I play football in front of a crowd of hundreds and sometimes thousands of fans so this was not difficult for me.'"
Sandra, who was the resident "Football Mom" at Malverne High School, credits her son's resilience to the sport, adding that while she was surprised at seeing her son back on the field so quickly, she was more proud of seeing him speak.
Kyle attributes realizing he has found his calling to his mother.
"It's easier for me because I have such a strong woman and this is more of about a woman empowerment because I've always been fighting for racial equality my whole life," Kyle said. "I've gone Malvern High School the most diverse place—I was almost sheltered because I didn't realize how much racism was really out there because we talked about it, but I had white friends, Spanish friends, Asian friends, black... I'm biracial and I was always fighting for that kind of equality."
Now Kyle is shedding light on gender equality and toxic masculinity. He believes he brings a unique perspective to the cause as a male and helps to shatter a stereotype as a football player.
"I'll be speaking and there'll be men coming after and they're touched, they're moved and some people are even crying," Kyle said. "Some men are crying and that's all good stuff too. Because showing emotion, some people need that. Imagine a victim seeing a man crying. Even though it's not them, that'll touch somebody. So, I think it's important for men of all ages to get involved somehow, some way."
While Kyle believes he can make a difference spreading his message to men, he was taken aback by all the people that felt comfortable to confide in them they were victims, including people he knew. People who told him that not only had no one helped them, but no one believed him.
"We need more men to be in this fight against toxic masculinity," Kyle said. "So don't be afraid to use your voice. Don't be afraid to speak up when you see something is wrong. Just because it's another man don't be afraid to not look cool because at the end of the day, people know things are wrong, they just don't speak up. And that's the problem."
In addition to his work with the Kristin's Fund, Kyle has been working with It's In Us and has now spoken at a number college campuses, including multiple Take Back The Night events.
He has also received national attention for his heroism, including the Joe Biden Courage Award for Bystander Intervention and the 2018 Capital One Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award.
This past fall, the SUNY Cortland senior said he finally felt 100 percent, recording 71 tackles for the Red Dragons. As the kinesiology major prepares to graduate in the spring, Kyle intends to put his degree to use while continuing to hone his public speaking.
"I'm a college student. I see this stuff. The statistics are really bad. One in four women on campuses are assaulted, and with transgenders it's more common. Men get assaulted, but it always comes back to the fact that it's a man doing it," Kyle said. "As I'm going into my senior year, I'm sitting there and I'm just thinking, 'Wow, my voice needs to be heard because I can't believe that this is something that's rare.' People should be doing this all the time."
Hero is a word that makes Kyle uncomfortable. He believes his friend Sulaiman was fearless in a moment that would change all of their lives forever. Without hesitation, he calls his mother the strongest person he knows. So how does someone who has been honored countless times for their bravery define courage?
"Courage to me I think is more of a feeling," Kyle said. "I think that when you're in the heat of the moment, it's that push. You kind of feel it throughout your body. You can do a courageous act on a football field or in sports too, you could make that courageous play. We see it every time. We see it all the time. You could do something that you just never thought you would do. You have to just do it."
So many victims of sexual violence often say that they simply just want someone to believe them. Kyle Richard has done much, much more than that.
Editor's note: According to court records, Ahkhazyah Wright was charged on four counts of attempted murder in the second degree, two counts of attempted assault in the first degree, two counts of assault in the first degree, two counts of criminal possession of a weapon in the second degree, one count of attempted sexual abuse in the first degree and one count of unlawful imprisonment in the second degree. The charges stem from an incident on July 23, 2017.