Three US citizens who overpowered a gunman in an Amsterdam-Paris train and prevented a possible massacre have spoken to the press. The truth “hasn’t sunken in,” they say.
United States Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos and their friend Anthony Sadler, spoke to the press on Sunday at the US embassy in Paris.
The three men, in their early twenties, overpowered an assailant who had got onto a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday and opened fire from a Kalashnikov. Their bravery prevented a potential massacre, saving the lives of more than 550 passengers. The attacker, reported to be a 26-year-old Moroccan national, is being questioned by French anti-terrorism police.
Speaking about how events unfolded that fateful day, 23-year-old Spencer Stone said he “woke up from the middle of a deep sleep.” The gunman had a Kalashnikov. His friend Alek shook him awake with the words, “Let’s go!” When journalists asked Stone what prompted him to act the way he did, he said he did it “to survive.”
23-year-old Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University in California, said he and his friends had got onto the wrong carriage because they couldn’t find the right one. The attacker, Sadler explained, was “skinny” and “basically came in and we saw him cocking the AK 47 [the Kalashnikov].”
Reacting to news reports that talked about the gunman saying he simply wanted to rob some passengers, Sadler said, “It doesn’t take eight magazines to rob a train.”
His friend, 22-year-old Alek Skarlatos from Roseburg, Oregon, said the attacker’s “intentions were pretty clear,” but that the incident “hasn’t really sunk in.” For Skarlatos, who was holidaying in Europe after a stint in Afghanistan, his actions on Friday weren’t “a conscious decision.” He told reporters that the soldiers’ training “kicked in after the assailant was subdued…but in the beginning it was basically gut instinct.”
‘Don’t just stand by’
The three said they’d never imagined their holiday to be anything like this. Reacting to a question on all the attention they were getting on social media, Skarlatos said he hadn’t expected it. “I thought they were going to let us go after questioning.”
When journalists asked what lesson the friends would like to convey to the public, university student Sadler said what people should learn was “that basically in times of crisis, to do something…holding or sitting back is not going to accomplish anything.”
“Don’t just stand by,” he added, saying that in times of terror, one should “please do something.”
Spencer Stone, who had his arm in a sling, said he trusted his friends and would have been dead if they hadn’t been around. Sadler also thanked his friends and British citizen Chris Norman for helping out on Friday.
Wrapping up the press conference, Air Force serviceman Stone thanked French nurses and parademics for stitching back his thumb. It all felt “pretty crazy,” he said, adding that he “never thought I would be here in this position.”
The three were still waiting for the incident to sink in. “Seems like a movie scene,” Anthony Sadler summed up.