French President Francois Hollande awarded three Americans credited with stopping a possible terror attack on a high-speed train with France’s highest honor Monday.
At a ceremony at the Elysee Palace, Hollande pinned the French Legion of Honor medals to childhood friends Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler as well as British grandfather Chris Norman, for stopping a man from carrying out an attack Friday evening on a train that had just left Brussels bound for Paris.
“A terrorist decided to commit an attack,” the French president said. “He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out real carnage, and that’s what he would have done if you hadn’t tackled him at a risk to your own lives. You gave us a lesson in courage, in will, and thus in hope.”
The French Legion of Honor medal was a creation of Napoleon Bonaparte, and it is usually reserved for those who have served France and the ideals for which it stands. Among Americans, the most common recipients were World War II veterans who helped liberate the nation from the Nazis.
This time it went to three Americans from the West Coast who were on a European vacation when a man with an AK-47, a pistol, plenty of ammunition and a box cutter entered their first-class train carriage. Off-duty U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, 23, of Sacramento, appeared for the award with a sling on his left arm and a heavily bandaged hand because of a deep cut to his thumb from the box cutter.
I would rather die being active trying to get him down than simply sit in the corner and be shot.
Briton Chris Norman
He said that when the attack began, he’d been sleeping. A gunshot had awakened them, and a passenger, whom Hollande identified as Mark Moogalian, a 51-year-old French-American citizen, had been hit in the throat and was bleeding badly.
At a press conference Sunday in Paris, Stone talked about that moment. “I turned around and I saw he had what looked to be an AK-47 and it looked like it was jammed or wasn’t working and he was trying to charge the weapon. Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said ‘Let’s go’ and ran down, tackled him. We hit the ground.”
Witnesses on the train have noted that Stone, followed by Skarlatos, 22 and a member of the Oregon National Guard, and Sadler, 23 and a student at Sacramento State University, had to run an estimated 30 feet to reach the armed assailant.
Stone managed to get the attacker in a headlock, while Skarlatos ripped the guns from his hands. Stone was cut on his face and neck, and his thumb was said to have been almost cut off during the scramble. While Stone held the man, Skarlatos used the AK-47 to beat or “muzzle thump” the attacker, while Sadler helped wrestle him to the ground.
He had enough weapons and ammunition to carry out real carnage, and that’s what he would have done if you hadn’t tackled him at a risk to your own lives.
French President Francois Hollande
Norman, 62, joined the fray after the man had been tackled because, as he said at the press conference, “I would rather die being active trying to get him down than simply sit in the corner and be shot.”
In the end, after they believed attacker Ayoub El-Khazzani, 25, a Moroccan national who had been on lists of potential terror threats in Spain, France and Belgium, was unconscious, they used Norman’s necktie to bind the attacker’s hands and feet.
After the attacker was subdued, Stone moved to the injured man, realized binding the wound wouldn’t work and stuck two fingers into the bullet hole, finding and plugging the wound.
Hollande noted Monday that Stone “had probably saved Moogalian’s life.” Moogalian, when he has healed, will also be awarded a Legion of Honor medal for his efforts to stop the terror attack. There is one more person who will receive honor, but Hollande noted that he wished to remain anonymous.
Matthew Schofield: @mattschodcnews