September 9, 2015
The story was a familiar one: three longtime pals, young guys from the U.S., met up in Europe for a little sightseeing around the continent. Spend some time in Amsterdam, visit Paris, have a blast and say goodbye. That’s where it should have ended.
But seemingly random events conspired to produce a gut-check moment that resulted in these three guys being hailed as heroes on both sides of the Atlantic. When a 25-year-old Moroccan, who was on a terrorist watch list in France and Spain, decided he was going to board a Paris-bound train and murder his way into eternity, it was these three Californians who stopped him.
Here’s everything you need to know about that day.
The three friends on the train, Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, had known one another since childhood. They grew up in the inauspicious suburbs around Sacramento, doing things that suburban kids do, like playing sports and paintball.
Once they were old enough, Stone enlisted in the Air Force and became a paramedic, and Skarlatos joined the National Guard, where he was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months. When the three met up, Skarlatos was stationed in Germany and Stone was in the Azores. Anthony Sadler was visiting his friends, excited to see Europe for the first time.
On the day, the three were traveling by train from Amsterdam and coming up on the Belgian/French border. That’s when they heard a gunshot followed by the sight of a train worker running down the aisle. The gunman entered the compartment, and after a conductor tried and failed to subdue the man, Skarlatos yelled, “Let’s go!” to his friends and the three, along with a British businessman, Chris Norman, rushed the attacker. They managed to hogtie the man, and even though Stone was injured by a box-cutter blade in the process, he helped stop the bleeding of an injured passenger.
The episode was tinged with absurdity, too. As the friends were subduing the gunman, he didn’t say anything except to demand his gun back. Despite the elaborate cunning of this request, the Americans didn’t take the bait.
Not surprisingly, the three men were hailed as heroes by both the French and American governments. They were hosted at the Elysee Palace by the French President and awarded France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur. President Obama phoned the young men as well to offer his thanks and congratulations. It was all icing on the cake for the three California boys who, in an instant, forestalled what was likely to have turned into another instance of mass violence.