One of three heroic Americans who risked their lives to subdue an armed attacker on a train bound from Amsterdam to Paris Aug. 21 is a member of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Roseburg, Ore., and his congregation is beaming with pride for him.
St. Paul member and Oregon Army National Guardsman Spc. Aleksander Skarlatos and his childhood friends — Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler — thwarted the attack as they were on vacation when a gunman reportedly entered the train carrying an AK-style machine gun, a handgun and a box cutter.
Skarlatos reportedly spotted the attacker and alerted his friends. Stone then rushed the gunman as Skarlatos and Sadler assisted in disarming and subduing the assailant. A British passenger also assisted later in the scuffle, according to media reports.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” Skarlatos said in a U.S. Air Force News Service (AFNS) report Aug. 23. “We didn’t even have time to think about it. We just acted.”
The Associated Press (AP) reported that the gunman was identified as 26-year-old Moroccan Ayoub El-Khazzani. The AP also reported El-Khazzani was detained and, as of Aug. 23, European authorities continued to investigate El-Khazzani’s possible ties to Islamic militants.
French President François Hollande awarded all three Americans, and the British passenger who assisted them, with France’s highest honor, the Legion d’Honneur, on Aug. 24. A fifth man involved, a French-American shot in the neck while trying to wrest a rifle from the assailant, will receive the Legion d’Honneur later.
In addition to being honored by the French, U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartly also honored the three men in a special ceremony, according to the AFNS report.
“We often use the word hero, and in this case I know that word has never been more appropriate,” Hartley said in the AFNS report. “They are truly heroes. When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran into the line of fire, saying ‘Let’s go.’ Those words changed the fate of many.”
On hearing about his church member’s heroism, the Rev. Andrew Farhat, who is pastor at St. Paul, said he wasn’t surprised by Alek’s bravery.
“Alek and his father, Emmanuel [Skarlatos] and stepmother, Karen, became members of our church in 2011. Alek was always a strong-minded person who wanted to do things his way,” Farhat said. “After working at [a local store] for a while, he decided that he wanted to serve his country. At first, his father was very concerned about what could happen. But later, with the help of faith, he decided to bless his son’s endeavors. Little did he know that his son would become an internationally renowned hero.”
Farhat said Alek’s public news feed on Facebook indicates that within only two days, Alek had spoken with President Barack Obama, Vice-President Joe Biden and Hollande.
“The congregation feels honored,” said Farhat. “We live in a small city in southern Oregon that most people have not heard of, so many of our members felt proud and honored that a man from our community acted with no fear to disarm a terrorist and save innocent lives.”
Posted Aug. 25, 2015 / Updated Aug. 27, 2015