After weeks of being celebrated internationally, three young men who thwarted a train attack in Europe received a hero’s welcome in their hometown of Sacramento on Friday with a ticker-tape parade and a rally at the state Capitol.
Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler had already been given France’s highest award, the Legion of Honor, and appeared on late-night talk shows and national news programs. But they said Friday’s big, exuberant reception was in ways the most meaningful.
“I just want to say how overwhelming this all is,” Sadler, 23, told the hundreds gathered in front of the Capitol’s west steps. “We’ve been all around the world these past couple weeks. But I just want you all to know, all the thanks we’ve received everywhere, it doesn’t feel anything in comparison to being in front of our home crowd like this.”
Sacramento police estimated total attendance for the parade and rally at more than 10,000, Mayor Kevin Johnson said in a post on Twitter.
Officials from the state Legislature, city and county governments and local law enforcement were among those on hand. There were players from Sacramento’s sports teams – the River Cats, Republic FC and the Kings. The French consul general from San Francisco, Pauline Carmona, stopped by to say “merci.” Sacramento musician Jackie Greene sang the national anthem. And Johnson emceed the event.
“What happened Aug. 21, 2015, a world away on a train, will go down in history” as a defining moment for Sacramento, the mayor said.
The young men’s actions served as a statement against terrorism, Johnson said on the 14th anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed passenger jets into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a farm field in Pennsylvania.
“It said we will not succumb to barbaric acts of terrorism,” Johnson said. “It said we are not afraid.”
“We could not be prouder as a city than we are right now,” he added.
Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone each took brief turns at the microphone.
“I know it’s really hot out, and that just means that much more that you guys all showed up and we really appreciate it. We’re so grateful,” Skarlatos, 22, said. “Like Anthony said, we’ve never gotten a reception like this. This has absolutely been unreal and fantastic.”
At times, the crowd broke out into spontaneous cheers of “USA, USA,” and a transport jet from Travis Air Force Base flew over the Capitol dome.
Stone is enlisted in the Air Force and wore his dress blue uniform for the parade.
On a train bound from Amsterdam to Paris, it was the airman first class who initially subdued the gunman, then helped save the life of a fellow passenger who had been shot in the neck.
“This support is amazing, and we all love you,” Stone, 23, said. “We love Sacramento. We’re proud to be here on this day.”
Johnson gave the three men keys to the city.
Luis Zanartu came to the heroes parade with swelling pride for his hometown of the past three decades.
Before moving to Sacramento, Zanartu grew up in Connecticut. As a teen, he turned out for the world championship parade for New York’s “Amazing Mets” of 1969. He later got to see the ball drop on New Year’s Eve in Times Square.
On Friday, the state Department of Education employee came to the Capitol waving a purple “Sacramento Proud” sign. He said he had never experienced anything like the celebration for local young men who had thwarted an act of terrorism.
“This shows that we have something important and significant,” said Zanartu, 62. “People who come from our city responded on the world stage and showed the world what character was.”
Along the parade route, confetti cannons blasted strips of white paper and a drill team on horseback kept pace with marching bands as they made their way down Capitol Mall. Del Campo High School, alma mater of Skarlatos and Stone, sent its honor guard. California State University, Sacramento, which Sadler attends, was represented by its marching band.
Leah Ellis of Roseville stood on a bench in front of the Wells Fargo tower to get a better view of the heroes as they stood on the platform of a flat-bed truck decked out with red and blue balloons and a replica of the Statue of Liberty.
“It’s not often you go to a parade and are touched emotionally,” Ellis said. “It feels very current and personal.”
Cindy and Ted Johnson, from Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, brought their 11-year-old son Jo Jo to see a bit of history.
“We wanted to show them we appreciate them,” Cindy Johnson said. “The news would have been about a terrorist attack on the train if they hadn’t done what they did. They deserve all the accolades.”