Three childhood friends from the Sacramento area were hailed as international heroes Saturday after thwarting a gunman armed with an assault rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. French officials said the man was planning mass murder on a high-speed train bound from Amsterdam to Paris.
Anthony Sadler, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, who had known each other since middle school, said they first heard shattering glass, then realized a man was brandishing an assault rifle in the train aisle. They jumped into action.
“My friend Alek just told Spencer, ‘Go get him,’” and “Spencer gets up in a split second and runs down the car and arrests the guy before he can shoot,” Sadler told reporters Saturday.
The three men, with help from another passenger, tackled the gunman, wrestled him to the ground, then hogtied him, saving themselves and other passengers.
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French police Saturday identified the gunman as Ayoub El Khazani, 25. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel described the incident as a terrorist attack.
Sadler’s father, Anthony Sadler Jr., in an interview Saturday from his Rancho Cordova home, said the three friends knew they had to act when they saw staff running to the back of the train to try to subdue the gunman.
“At that point, it was kill or be killed,” said Sadler Jr., who spoke to his son by phone after the incident. “They kept fighting until they were able to disarm the man.”
“I don’t think that hero is an overstatement for the three of them,” the father added.
Stone, 22, of Carmichael was stabbed with a box cutter during the struggle with El Khazani. Despite his injuries, Stone, who has paramedic training, aided a passenger whose throat had been cut. Stone was released from the hospital Saturday, according to media reports. Skarlatos, whose family now lives in Oregon, said Stone almost lost his thumb.
Stone is in the Air Force and recently returned from Afghanistan.
“I’m really proud that Spencer was able to save that guy’s life. ... It was amazing to watch,” Sadler, 23, said during a European news conference.
Stone and and Sadler attended Del Campo High School in Sacramento County’s Fair Oaks community. One of Stone’s former teammates on the basketball and football teams said his actions were in keeping with his no-nonsense character and desire to help others.
“Spencer’s always been a great guy. Always had great morals. It doesn’t surprise me at all he’d do something like that,” said classmate Tyler Smith, 22, of Carmichael.
Smith said he remembers Stone wanting to go into law enforcement before turning to the military. “He always wanted to make a difference and stand up for what he thought was right,” Smith said.
Sadler is a senior and kinesiology major at Sacramento State University. He was traveling with Skarlatos, an Oregon National Guardsman, and Stone, who is stationed at Lajes Air Base in Azores. They left roughly 10 days ago, according to Stone’s public Facebook page.
Gen. Philip Breedlove, commanding officer of the U.S. European Command, praised the actions of the three men.
“Actions like this clearly illustrate the courage and commitment our young men and women have all the time, whether they are on duty or on leave,” Breedlove said in a statement released by the Pentagon.