Three Americans, including two servicemen, are being commended for their heroic actions stopping what could have been a potential massacre, on Friday.
The three men tackled a gunman on a train from Amsterdam to Paris, after hearing a gunshot and the sound of shattering glass.
Airman Class Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos, and college senior Anthony Sadler were the three heroes involved. They were traveling with childhood friends on the train when it happened. The three, along with 62-year-old British passenger, Chris Norman, immediately reacted.
“I saw a guy entering the train with an AK-47 and a handgun, and I just looked over to Spencer and said, ‘Let’s go, go!’” Skarlatos said.
The authorities believe the shooter is a 26-year-old Moroccan man who was flagged by the Spanish police in February 2014 for his connections to radical Islam.
Stone, along with two other passengers were critically injured, but nothing life-threatening.
Officials told NBC News that Stone had a successful hand operation, and French President Francois Hollande will host the three American men for a meeting, on Monday.
President Obama also commended the men with a personal phone call on Saturday.
“The President expressed his gratitude to these three individuals for their heroic actions forestalling an even greater tragedy. The President wished Airman Stone a full and speedy recovery, and expressed how proud all Americans are of their extraordinary bravery,” Deputy Press Secretary, Eric Schultz, confirmed.
Norman said, at a news conference, Saturday, that he thought he was looking at the end of his life on the train.
“He had a magazine full. I don’t known how many magazines he had,” Norman said. “My thought was, ‘Okay, I’m probably going to die anyway, so let’s go.’ I’d rather die getting active.”
Though the men have been continuously commended for their actions, Norman refuses to accept the notion that he is a hero.
“Either you sit down and you die, or you get up and you die, It was really nothing more than that,” he said. “We’ve seen enough of these kinds of attacks to understand that they will kill everybody once they get started.”
The shooting occurred near Arras, France at 5:45 p.m. A French passenger, while walking towards the bathroom, first spotted the gunman. He tried to calm him down, but when he realized it wasn’t working, he fled, the heavily armed gunman firing two or three shots after him.
One round of fire hit a man seated on the train, according to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
Stone, hearing the shots, ran after the suspect, caught up to him and pushe him against the bathroom door, witnesses and local police said. The two fought after the suspect took out a box-cutter and slashed Stone. All of the other men mentioned, then followed suit, helping Stone by holding down the gunman until police arrived to arrest him.
Skarlatos said Stone grabbed the suspect by the neck while he removed the weapon from his grip.
“I grabbed the handgun. Got the handgun away from the guy and threw it, and then I grabbed the AK-47, which was at his feet,” Skarlatos said. “If anybody would have gotten shot, it would have been Spencer for sure. We’re very lucky that nobody got killed, especially Spencer.”
Sadler recalled the same order of events to the Associated Press, “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestled the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a box-cutter and slices Spencer a few times, And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”
Norman recounted that the “gunman put up a fight, but Spencer Stone is a very strong guy.” He told the media, “He actually held him very well and Aleksander and Anthony had a pretty good go at hitting him.”
Norman continued to recall that Spencer was cut two or three times in his neck, before Norman could hold down the gunman’s hands. He said Skarlatos later went through the train to make sure there were no other gunmen.
France is not new to terror attacks, having experienced many in January, causing them to lose 17 people, which includes a count of 12 from the Charlie Hebdo magazine office shooting. In June, a man who claimed ties to Islamic radicals beheaded his boss and set off an explosion at a factory.
U.S. European Command Commander, General Philip M. Breedlove, confirmed that the Americans were on leave from the military and “took immediate action to subdue an armed gunman before he could engage his automatic weapon on the train.”
“These men are heroes. 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,” he said. “We are extremely proud of their efforts and now are praying for our injured airmen to have a speedy recovery.”
“I got pretty emotional and I just said ‘I’m proud of you, and I’m thankful and grateful and happy that you’re safe,” Skarlatos’ father, Emanuel, told NBC station, KGW, what he said after his son told him what happened.
Investigators are currently working on figuring out what the gunman’s motive was, and the Paris prosecutor’s office confirmed that its anti-terrorist section has taken over the investigation.
The mayor of Arras, Frederic Leturque gave the men medals to thank them for their bravery.
“It’s my last year in college. I came to see my friends on my first trip in Europe and we stopped a terrorist. It’s kind of crazy,” Sadler, who is currently studying physical therapy at Sacramento State University, said.