Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos grew up next door to each other on a quintessential suburban street in Carmichael lined with ranch houses, shade trees and flowering shrubs.
Friends from age 7, they played with their siblings and neighbors up and down Woodknoll Way, favoring games such as Airsoft, in which participants shoot each other with realistic-looking replica guns that fire plastic pellets, said Peter Skarlatos, Alek’s older brother. Later at Del Campo High School, they played football, lacrosse and other contact sports.
“We’d basically turn this neighborhood into a war zone,” the brother said, sitting on the shady front porch of his family’s ranch house Sunday afternoon. “Spencer and Alek were all action-oriented kinds of guys.”
The two friends and their companion, Anthony Sadler, remained in France on Sunday two days after they entered the international spotlight by foiling what French officials called a planned terrorist attack on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris. They were scheduled to receive medals of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest decoration, on Monday.
Sudden fame has engulfed the three young men, who were traveling together through Europe after Skarlatos, a 22-year-old member of the Oregon National Guard, finished a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Stone, 23, is an airman first class in the U.S. Air Force, and Sadler, 23, is a student at California State University, Sacramento.
Stone’s mother, Sadler’s father and Skarlatos’ mother flew to France on Sunday to witness the Legion of Honor ceremonies.
Back home in the Sacramento suburbs, their families remain besieged and exhausted by media requests from across a globe riveted by heroism that stopped what might have been a massacre. “Today,” “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and other programs from media outlets across the U.S. and abroad have called seeking interviews.
On Sunday, when a Sacramento Bee reporter arrived, Alek Skarlatos’ older brother Solon was inside the house being interviewed for French television, Peter Skarlatos said. So Peter came out on the front porch to talk, sighing tiredly but helping to shed light on the young heroes’ long friendship.
Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos attended an independent Christian middle school where they met Sadler, whose father is pastor of a Baptist church in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood. They went to Del Campo High School in Fair Oaks together before Alek Skarlatos left to live with his father in Roseburg, Ore., where he graduated from high school.
The friends kept in touch, united by longtime bonds and a shared faith, Peter Skarlatos said.
“They’re all Christians,” he said. “They’re all very religious.”
With their expertise in firearms, he said his brother Alek and Stone immediately took in the situation when a man appeared on their train car with an assault rifle. They knew they only had seconds to act when the rifle jammed.
Stone later attributed the brief opening he had to tackle the gunman to divine intervention, Peter Skarlatos said.
At the church where Sadler’s father preaches, Oak Park’s Shiloh Baptist Church, about 150 people filled Sunday’s services, some women wearing bright dresses and flowered hats, the men in dark suits. It was the church’s annual choir day, and the services, filled with music from the youth and adult choirs, went on as usual.
Church officials asked media members not to interview or photograph congregants, and a minister preached that help to others should be given quietly and “out of the limelight.”
There were just a few short references to the younger Sadler’s heroics in France, such as when a woman directing the choir paused between rousing hymns to say: “I praised the Lord when I heard about Anthony.”