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Heroes who stopped Paris train attack look back, five years later

President Barack Obama meets with U.S. Army Specialist Alek Skarlatos, U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler in the Oval Office of the White House on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015.

OLIVIER DOULIERY, ABACA PRESS/TNS

By SHAUN HOLKKO | The Sacramento Bee | Published: August 21, 2020

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — A gunshot was fired.

Glass shattered and train employees fled the locomotive to the caboose as a shirtless man wielding an AK-47 entered a car with hundreds of passengers.

What was supposed to be a relaxing train ride from Amsterdam to Paris for three childhood friends from Sacramento on Aug. 21, 2015 turned out the opposite.

The trio from Sacramento, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, jumped into action to stop the terrorist attack. Skarlatos, who was already awake and observing the scene, watched from behind his seat as Stone awoke from a nap, jumped into action and run full speed at the terrorist, Ayoub El Khazzani. Skarlatos followed.

“When you’re in a moment like that, the adrenaline dump is so much that it literally is like a movie, time really slows down,” Stone told The Sacramento Bee. “I felt like my brain was working at full capacity. I ran through a couple options in my head just looking at him for a second.”

Stone and Skarlatos, who had military experience in the United States Air Force and Army, respectively, along with Sadler eventually subdued Khazzani and knocked him unconscious due after a choke hold from Stone and repeated headshots with the muzzle of the AK-47 from Skarlatos.

Within a matter of minutes, the trio of friends from Sacramento went from tourists to international heroes for stopping an attempted terrorist attack.

However, the trio were not the only heroes that day, as Mark Moogalian, an American-born Frenchman, was the second passenger to intervene as he attempted to wrestle the rifle from Khazzani and sustained a non-fatal gunshot wound to the neck from a pistol.

“As time has gone on and I’ve been able to evaluate the situation over and over and over again, to me Mark is the number one guy in my eyes,” Stone explained. “He was always portrayed as the guy who got shot. In reality, he was one of the first guys to engage with the terrorist. He set us up to do something.”

With his military experience, Stone was later able to save Moogalian’s life by sticking his fingers in his wound until they reached the next train station.

“If Mark hadn’t done what he did, two things. One, we wouldn’t have been in the position to do something, nor would we have known something was happening,” Stone said. “Two, he took the bullet for me because when the terrorist tried to shoot me with the pistol he had, it was empty. Those two things right there, Mark saved my life and everyone else’s life first and foremost and I just kinda repaid him the favor”

Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler were later honored by French President François Hollande and United States President Barack Obama with the Legion of Honour and Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor, respectively.

“It was really a huge honor,” Skarlatos said. “We didn’t really realize what was going on or how big of a deal it was at the time when it came to getting the Legion of Honour. I was aware that it was a big deal, I just didn’t know what scope exactly.

“We were honestly at that time thinking a little bit more about just how lucky we were to be alive. We were kind of in our own world and didn’t realize what a big deal it had already become, we were just happy to be alive and back together.”

Following their heroic efforts, an autobiography was released in 2016 and later a movie was made about the three childhood friends, titled “The 15:17 to Paris.” The movie was directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, who casted the trio to play themselves and make their big screen debuts in 2018.

“It was the coolest experience ever,” Skarlatos said. “It was such a unique experience. Not only did this crazy thing happen to us and we survived, but then all three of us get to play ourselves in a movie and it’s directed by Clint Eastwood, you can’t even make that stuff up.

“We wanted it to be very accurate and he was very accommodating to our desires and not Hollywood-ed up or fake. So much so that he asked us to play ourselves, which I thought was very unusual. Whether or not you think our acting was any good, at the very least, it was very authentic to how we treat each other and what actually happened on the train.”

In the years since, the trio have returned to a new version of their “normal” lives and things have settled down, including Sadler graduating from Sacramento State with a degree in kinesiology in 2017.

Skarlatos got out of the military in 2017 and did some public speaking, which led to him getting interested in politics. He is running as a Republican for Congress in southwestern Oregon.

Sadler works as a financial planner at Northwestern Mutual and auditions on the side, as he still wants to pursue acting. Stone is starting school online in the fall at City College of San Francisco pursuing a degree in philosophy. The trio is miles, and years, away from that fateful train to Paris. And just like the rest of us, they’re still trying to figure out what’s next.

“It’s interesting. Me and Spencer live down in Los Angeles and we were down there just auditioning and trying to break into the entertainment world,” Sadler said. “With the COVID stuff, all that kinda took a standstill. Just like everybody else, we’re quarantined and trying to figure out the next move and had to pivot like everyone else.”

©2020 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)
Visit The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.) at www.sacbee.com
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Secretary of Defense Ash Carter pins on the Soldier's Medal to the uniform of Army Spc. Alek Skarlatos at the Pentagon on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015.
RICK VASQUEZ/STARS AND STRIPES

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