After days of crushing media attention, hometown hero Anthony Sadler appeared publicly for the first time since returning to the United States during a news conference at Sacramento City Hall on Wednesday, saying the entire experience has been overwhelming.
“It feels good to be back on American soil – especially in Sacramento,” said Sadler, who helped foil a terrorist attack on a high-speed train bound for Paris last week.
Sadler, 23, sporting a black shirt and tie, stood alongside Mayor Kevin Johnson and his father, Anthony R. Sadler, the lead pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Oak Park.
The Sacramento State senior was lauded by Johnson as a true hero. “This is a proud day for Sacramento,” the mayor said.
Johnson also presented Sadler a customized Sacramento Kings jersey that had his name on it, after raising heckles about the fact that he wore a Los Angeles Laker’s jersey to a news conference in France.
More than 100 people attended the Wednesday event, including top city officials and members of the public.
The junior Sadler did not take questions from the media and spent just a few minutes on stage before turning the microphone over to his father.
Sadler and two childhood friends, Spencer Stone – a U.S. Air Force member – and Alek Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon National Guard, foiled what French officials called a planned terrorist attack on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris.
Stone and Skarlatos grew up next door to each other in Carmichael, and they met Sadler in middle school. The three received the French Legion of Honor award Monday, the country’s highest honor for valor.
As his son walked off the stage, Anthony R. Sadler, 57, expressed appreciation for all those who have helped his family. He thanked U.S. Ambassador to France Jane Hartley, local law enforcement and Columbia Sportswear CEO Timothy Boyle, who provided a private jet for the trip back to United States.
“There are many back stories that could be told,” the elder Sadler said. “We were regular people five days ago. Now we’re the focus of attention.”
And then his address began to resemble a sermon, with his fiery voice booming from the podium.
“Throughout time, God has used ordinary people to do extraordinary things,” the pastor said.
The elder Sadler said he was getting a haircut when his son called and texted him about what had happened. “I fell back in my seat in disbelief,” the pastor said.
Asked by a Sacramento Bee reporter about his son’s role in the train incident, Sadler said he wanted to let his son tell the story. The father asked for privacy while the family comes to grips with the media attention. “Anthony desires to share his story with the entire nation,” he said, adding that he would soon designate a spokesman for the family.
The event drew regular people who turned out to support Sadler.
“You wonder if in a situation like that you would stand up and do something. I wish I knew I were as brave,” said Rachael Smith, a Sacramento native working in public relations.
Fellow PR professional Patrick Harbison also cheered Sadler on. “As a Sac State grad, I’ve never been more proud,” Harbison said.
Johnson said the city will hold a parade in honor of the three men, but not until they are all back in Sacramento. “We’re going to do something really cool,” he said.
California State University, Sacramento, officials this week trumpeted Sadler’s connection to the school, honoring all three men on the school’s giant electronic billboard. Sadler, a kinesiology major, is also a member of the Kappa Sigma fraternity and the Philosophy Club. School President Robert S. Nelsen said this week that donors are lining up to help Sadler with scholarship money for his last year of study.
Meanwhile, Stone appeared in a Department of Defense interview and described the actions he took to help thwart the possible carnage aboard the train.
Stone was the first of the three to sprint down the aisle to attack a gunman holding an assault rifle who had already shot a person on board the train. Stone’s thumb was nearly severed in the tussle with the alleged terrorist who was also armed with a handgun and box cutter.
“It feels real good, I can’t lie, but, I don’t know how to word this, I don’t want to get a big head about it,” said Stone, who also helped triage a French passenger who had been shot.
He also mentioned that if the incident were to be made into a movie, he would want Denzel Washington to play him.
“But I don’t think that would go over so well,” said Stone, who is much younger than Washington and is not African American.
Stone did not specify in the interview what role Sadler played in subduing gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani, other than to say all three men pounded him into submission. Stone said that he choked El-Khazzani until he was unconscious, and Skarlatos took his assault rifle. El-Khazzani, a 25-year-old from Morocco, was also armed with a multiple rounds of ammunition.