A possible terrorist attack on a train bound for Paris was prevented thanks to the bravery of three passengers. The men, along with a French national and a British national, played pivotal roles in detaining a gunman who had a pack containing an AK-47, a Luger pistol, and nine ammunition clips. The suspect's gun reportedly jammed as he was leaving the bathroom, and that was when the three men sprang into action. So, who are the three Americans who thwarted the France train attack? Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler all hail from America. The friends were on vacation, traveling from Amsterdam to Paris.
It was Skarlatos who alerted Stone and Sadler as to what was going on after hearing objects breaking as well a gunshot. Stone had just awoken from a nap and saw the suspect as he was turning around when Skarlatos tapped him on the shoulder and told him, "Spencer, go!" Stone charged at the suspect and forced him to the ground. Sadler, Skarlatos, and Briton Chris Norman restrained the gunman, who is currently being detained and questioned. He has been identified as Ayoub El-Khazzani and reportedly claims that he found the weaponry in a park and that he was looking to rob passengers on the train. All three men, as well as Norman, have been presented with bravery medals for their efforts, and the French president will award them France's top honor on Monday.
Stone has described the altercation and what has followed as "unreal," and Skarlatos has remained skeptical of the gunman's motives. During a press conference at the U.S. ambassadors' residence in Paris on Sunday, Skarlatos said:
The guy [gunman] had a lot of ammo. His intentions were pretty clear, but you can speculate all day long. But I mean, like Spencer said, it really hasn't sunk in. It does not seem real.
Stone has endured the most difficulties following the thwarting of the attack. He was injured during his altercation with the gunman and was stabbed multiple times with a box cutter by the suspect in addition to sustaining injuries to his head and neck. Perhaps his worst injury was a stab wound to his thumb, which doctors had to surgically reattach. Stone is a USAF Airman First Class and lives in Sacramento. Friends have described his bravery as entirely unsurprising. Speaking with People magazine, close friend Marilyn Norberry said:
I'm not surprised he took actions into his own hands, that's why he wanted to join the Air Force in the first place. To protect his country, his family and most importantly his mother. He would do anything for her. But to save a train full of people he didn't even know in a strange country is something no one will ever forget. He is one of the bravest young men of our generation.
Spencer, for his part, has been incredibly gracious. He commended his friends, the EMTs, and medical staff for their care as well as the workers on the train for their quick thinking during Sunday's press conference:
I trust both my friends very much and if it wasn't for them I would've been dead, so we all had a critical role in whatever happened and everyone else that helped — the conductors, the guy at the bathroom — so, everyone played their own their part. No one is specifically to praise.
Skarlatos grew up in Sacramento and has known Sadler and Stone since childhood. He was on leave from his position as an Oregon National Guard Specialist after just returning from Afghanistan. His European trip included a very special side trip to meet relatives in Germany before joining Stone and Sadler in Amsterdam for a soccer game and some much-needed relaxation. Skarlatos' brother, Solon Skarlatos, told the Los Angeles Times that the incident was incredibly jarring for his brother:
Having two military guys on the train and another guy with them, in that area, where the gunman got on, it's almost luck that they were on it. It's unlucky that they were at that incident but lucky for everyone else that they were the ones who were there at that particular time and that everything happened the way it did.
Skarlatos was realistic about the incident while answering questions during Sunday's press conference. He noted that had the suspect been better trained, things may have gone far worse:
He clearly had no firearms training whatsoever and if he knew what he was doing and even if he got lucky... he would've been able to operate through all eight of those magazines and we would've probably been in trouble and would've not been here today.
Sadler is a senior at CSU Sacramento and was embarking his first trip to Europe when the incident occurred. He holds no military training but played a pivotal role in restraining the gunman following Stone's altercation. His father, Anthony Sadler, Sr., has expressed just as much surprise as Sadler has regarding the incident unfolding and considers himself very proud of his son. Speaking with Sacramento NBC affiliate KCRA, he said:
He leaves here a young man on an excursion to broaden his world view and have fun with his buddies, and he comes back he comes back France's national hero. I'm told he might meet the president of France before he leaves so I'm still wrapping my head around that.
The college student credits his friends' fast actions. He echoed Stone's sentiments during Sunday's press conference:
I don't know what I would have done if I was by myself. I don't know. I saw Spencer get up, I saw Alek get up. And those are my close friends ... I couldn't let them go alone. ... Me, personally, I'm still waiting to wake up. This all just seems like a movie scene or something. Like you said, the word to describe it is unreal.