Sitting in his sunlit living room in Rancho Cordova, exhausted from being up since 2:30 a.m. with reporters from across the globe, Tony Sadler spoke with subdued pride Saturday about his son’s heroics on a train bound from Amsterdam to Paris the previous day.
His son, Anthony Sadler, a student at California State University, Sacramento, and two longtime friends from the Sacramento area, military members Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, charged a gunman with an assault rifle and stopped what French authorities called a planned terrorist massacre. All three friends are in their early 20s.
The elder Sadler – the soft-spoken, bespectacled pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood – recounted the story of the attack and the three friends’ quick reaction that his son had told him over the phone. As the assailant moved through the train aisle brandishing an AK-47, they quickly grasped the situation and didn’t hesitate to go after him.
The three, with help from another passenger, tackled the gunman, wrestled him to the ground, then hogtied him, saving themselves and other passengers.
“I would certainly agree that their acts were heroic, and I don’t think that ‘hero’ is an overstatement for the three of them,” Sadler’s father said.
As the world praised the actions of the three young men from the Sacramento suburbs, those who knew them said Saturday that they were proud, if not especially surprised by their heroics.
Tyler Smith of Carmichael played on the basketball and football teams at Del Campo High School with Stone, the Air Force enlisted man who charged the gunman and was slashed repeatedly with a razor knife. Stone, bleeding heavily, then helped treat another passenger who had been wounded.
“Spencer’s always been a great guy. Always had great morals,” Smith said. “It doesn’t surprise me at all he’d do something like this. He’s always been a standup guy.”
Smith graduated with Stone from Del Campo in 2011, and said Stone often talked about going into law enforcement. Instead, he chose the military, which proved a good fit.
“He always wanted to make a difference and stand up for what he thought was right,” Smith said.
Basketball coaches and teachers at Del Campo said Stone wasn’t a star athlete but excelled at being a team player and was universally liked.
Dave Nobis, the school’s head basketball coach, said Stone was a student in a class he taught on personal psychology and that, over the years, he continued to receive notes from Stone containing motivational quotes “about succeeding in life.”
On Woodknoll Way, a quiet street lined with ranch houses and mature trees in suburban Carmichael, Stone’s mother, Joyce Eskel, and Skarlatos’ mother, Heidi Hansen, have lived next door to each other for nearly two decades.
Eskel declined to speak to The Sacramento Bee on Saturday, exhausted by the events. But in an earlier interview, she told British newspaper The Telegraph that her son’s actions on the train were what she would have expected.
“It is absolutely in his character,” she told a reporter between sobs. “I have another son, and they are both very courageous boys. It didn’t surprise me at all. It makes me nervous at times, but I am thankful that he is that way.”
Rosemarie Campbell, 87, said she watched Stone grow up from her house across the street and recalled that he would often come to her rescue.
“He’s been heroic for me for years,” she said. “Anytime he saw me, he’d help me out of my car, or help me with the groceries. There was never a bit of trouble with him.”
Hansen said her son and Stone grew up together and had been friends since they were 4 years old. After graduating from Del Campo, both joined the military. Stone enlisted in the Air Force and Skarlatos moved to Oregon, where his father lives, and joined the National Guard.
Skarlatos was returning from a tour in Afghanistan when the three friends decided to meet up and travel through Europe together. They were journeying from one European capital to another when the episode unfolded.
Hansen, too, said she was extremely tired after media attention that had started in the wee hours, many time zones away, and hadn’t abated.
“I'm just so proud of him,” she said, before closing her door in hopes of a long-sought nap.