When Peter Gold saw a man dragging a woman by the hair toward his vehicle around 4 a.m. on Nov. 20, 2015, in New Orleans, he didn’t think. He just reacted.
“I said to myself, ‘This isn’t right,’ ” Gold, 27, tells PEOPLE, speaking out Tuesday for the first time about the incident.
“The next thing I knew I was out of the car and yelling at the guy, ‘Leave this girl alone! Get away from her!’ ” Gold recalls.
The man, later identified as Euric Cain, turned to Gold and demanded money, he says.
“I didn’t have any cash on me, so I offered him my cell phone, saying, ‘Take whatever you want. Just leave this girl alone and get out of here,’ ” Gold says. “Then he took a gun out and at point-blank range said, ‘F— you. I’m just going to kill you.’ “
Cain shot him in the stomach, Gold says.
“I was on the ground kinda gasping for air,” he says. “I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me and it was never going to go away.”
What he didn’t find out until later that week was that Cain was still trying to kill him.
“My back was to him,” he says. “He tried to shoot me in the head a couple of times but luckily his gun jammed. … I was trying to reach over for my phone. I’d been on the phone with my parents. I wanted to tell them where I was, what had happened. At that point I was in survival mode trying to get myself help. I didn’t know he was trying to execute me.”
People heard the commotion and started running to help, he says. Cain fled the scene.
“They kept me calm and waited for the ambulance to come,” he says. “It came right away. When I woke up two days later, I was in the hospital. My entire group of family and friends was there.”
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Surveillance cameras caught the whole incident on camera, which New Orleans police later released publicly. Gold, now 27 and an orthopedics resident in New York City, spent a week and a half in the hospital after the shooting, he says, but has had a full recovery. Gold was a medical student at Tulane University at the time of the shooting.
Cain escaped but DNA evidence later linked him to the rape and kidnapping of a tourist couple less than 24 hours later. Cain, now 22, was later arrested and last October 31 pleaded guilty to attempted murder (for trying to kill Gold), attempted kidnapping and rape and other offenses, according to his attorney, Brian Woods. He was sentenced to 54 years in prison, Woods says. Gold read a victim impact statement at the sentencing.
“It was very important for me mentally to face him,” Gold tells PEOPLE. “This guy tried to kill me and I got to stand up and look him in the eye. I told him, ‘I hope if you ever get out of jail you try to do something good with your life… Did he listen? I don’t know. It’s just a true passion for me to try and spend that message now — even for someone like him.”
Helping At-Risk Youth
That passion is why Gold has founded Strong City, a nonprofit to help at-risk children in New Orleans, which raises money to help fund charities that help children in New Orleans, he says.
“I really want to dedicate a large portion of my life to really focusing on youth in our country, and kids who are falling between the cracks and have missed opportunities [and are growing up] in an environment of violence,” he says. “I think there’s a lot of good work that’s already really being done in that space and I want to really bring people together to bolster that effort.”
The near-miss changed him in other ways as well, he says.
“On a micro level, I’m really just thankful to be alive and I appreciate the smaller things in life,” he says. “On a macro level, I’ve been trying to make sense out of what happened in someone’s life that they ended up being able to commit such a violent act with such ease.”
As for the woman he saved, Gold says he has never met her, but he received a heartfelt, handwritten letter from her and her family thanking him for his bravery.
“It was really nice and special to get a letter from them,” he says.
Woods, Cain’s defense attorney, applauded Gold for starting the foundation.
“I agree with Mr. Gold’s foundation,” Woods tells PEOPLE. “I think it’s fantastic. My client did have a troubled past and not the greatest upbringing and I think a foundation like this could possibly prevent other youths from having an outcome similar to this. Mr. Gold is definitely a strong individual — especially after an incident like this — to come out and speak out and start a foundation.”
Despite being shot and being a hair’s breath away from death, Gold says he’d probably do it again if a similar situation arose.
“I saw this thing happening and the next thing I knew I was out of the car,” he says. “I hope and feel that my instincts would jump in and I’d do the same thing again.”
In the meantime, he hopes his foundation will help prevent it from happening to someone else in the future.
“If we can help one kid, two kids, three kids, then we’re stopping a Peter Gold helping a girl who’s dragged across the ground 20 years from now,” he says. “We have to play that long game and I hope people want to do that with us.”