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Anthony Sadler returns to his Oak Park church a hero

Anthony Sadler Jr. hugs his grandmother, Imogene Sadler, for the first time since arriving in Sacramento during the church service at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Sunday. Anthony Sadler Jr. was traveling with childhood friends Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone when they tackled and disarmed a gunman on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris.
Anthony Sadler Jr. hugs his grandmother, Imogene Sadler, for the first time since arriving in Sacramento during the church service at the Shiloh Baptist Church on Sunday. Anthony Sadler Jr. was traveling with childhood friends Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone when they tackled and disarmed a gunman on a high-speed train between Amsterdam and Paris. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

Nine days after Anthony Sadler and two boyhood friends thwarted a heavily armed assailant on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, Sadler returned to Shiloh Baptist Church to a thundering standing ovation Sunday.

Sadler, 23, who begins his senior year at California State University, Sacramento, next week, exchanged hugs and handshakes and posed for dozens of photos with congregants, many of whom had known him since he was a 5-year-old usher.

“I used to stay by the door to get candy from my grandfather,” said Sadler, pointing to the right corner of the Oak Park church where his grandparents, Albert and Imogen Sadler, were sitting. “It feels great to be back!”

Clad in a gray suit, Sadler sat next to Mayor Kevin Johnson, who said he knows the Sadler family well and often worships at Shiloh Baptist. “It wasn’t surprising to see heroism come out of this church, it’s a beacon in this community,” said Johnson, who called the Sunday morning service “very emotional.”

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.

Skarlatos, who had served in Afghanistan, heard a shot on the train and saw alleged gunman Ayoub El-Khazzani armed with an AKM assault rifle with 270 rounds of ammunition, a Lugar M80 automatic pistol and a box cutter. He said he told U.S. Airman Stone “Go!” and the three friends subdued the suspect with the help of Briton Chris Norman.

All three Americans received the French Legion of Honor, that country’s highest honor for valor.

Sadler’s family celebrated Sunday, with his grandmother – part of the choir – warming up the congregation with gospel tunes such as “Can’t Nobody Do Me Like Jesus” and “I Am A Friend Of God.” The Rev. Anthony R. Sadler, the hero’s father, then declared, “It’s good to be an American!” and unleashed a fiery sermon on the power of prayer and an all-seeing God.

“On Aug. 21, when evil entered that train bound for Paris, it didn’t catch God by surprise – God had a team on board going to take care of God’s business – Spencer, Alek and our son, Anthony,” Sadler preached, leaving the pulpit to take his message directly into the aisles. “When Alek yelled ‘Go!’ God had already given his ambassadors their instructions. ... I believe Anthony, Spencer and Alek had prayers in the bank saved up!”

Anthony later bowed his head in prayer along with the rest of the congregation.

“He’s got a good head on his shoulders,” his grandmother said.

Sadler, who’s interested in a career in sports medicine, spent the weekend preparing for school, said his grandfather, a U.S. Air Force veteran who counseled Sadler to get his college degree before he did anything else. “I told him, ‘Come off cloud 9 and hit your books – I want to see that piece of paper!’” he said.

Gwen Lemons, who said she once supervised Sadler and the other ushers, called him “a sweet kid all the time.”

“I’m excited that he was one of our kids who was in the paper for doing something good,” she said.

Stephen Magagnini: 916-321-1072, @StephenMagagnini

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