Heroism in the face of terror
By Tony Rossi
On Aug. 21, 2015, longtime friends Anthony Sadler, Alek Skarlatos, and Spencer Stone were making their way from Amsterdam to Paris on a high-speed train. The three young Americans were simply enjoying a vacation together when they were thrust into history by the presence of a heavily armed terrorist intent on murdering everyone on board.
Stone, an Air Force Airman First Class, and Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon National Guard who had recently returned from deployment in Afghanistan, were quick to jump into action with Sadler by their side. Stone was the first to rush the gunman, only to be met with an AK-47 assault rifle that the terrorist shot. But no bullet came out. The gun misfired. That allowed Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler, to tackle and subdue the gunman, who still managed to cut Stone with a box cutter, injuring his head, neck, and hand.
Hailed as heroes, the three Americans were quick to give credit to God for guiding and protecting them that day. Their story has been turned into a Clint Eastwood-directed film that’s now available on home video: “The 15:17 to Paris.” And not only that, Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler star as themselves.
During a “Christopher Closeup” interview, Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone said they were happy that the God factor isn’t downplayed in the movie. Skarlatos explained, “It’s impossible to not see God’s hand or some sort of fate working in our favor.” That was especially true for Stone, who would likely have been killed if the terrorist’s gun had not misfired. He said, “There were definitely a lot of prayers of gratitude up to God after that one, because that would have changed the whole course of the event. I’d be dead and probably hundreds of other people.”
The seeds of faith were planted in each of the young men’s lives by their families. Skarlatos credits his mother with taking him to church and putting him in a Christian school. Stone also notes the influence of his mother’s faith, but adds that there was a point when believing in God became his own choice: “At a certain point, I was able to distinguish between people telling me that God was there and working in my life – and feeling and seeing it [myself].”
Sadler’s greatest spiritual influence was his father, who is the pastor at Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento. He said, “My dad told me, even as a kid, that he was just giving me the foundation – that there would be a time when...it would be up to me to make my own choices to continue my journey with God. I credit him with doing that because it made me attentive when I was an adult.”
Though they are viewed as heroes, Sadler, Skarlatos, and Stone each embody an “everyman” quality – and that’s what they hope people who see “The 15:17 to Paris” are left with. Sadler concludes, “We hope [viewers] take away from it just how ordinary the three of us are. I think everybody will be able to identify with one of us or all three of us in the fact that we’re just regular guys that were put in an extraordinary situation. Often times, people think it’s something that just the three of us have within us, but we wanted the film to portray that everybody is capable of doing the extraordinary no matter what the obstacle is…We hope this story portrays that and inspires people to act in times of adversity.”
For free copies of the Christopher News Note BUILDING A LIFE OF CHARACTER, write: The Christophers, 5 Hanover Square, New York, NY 10004; or e-mail: [email protected]
Tony Rossi is director of communications for The Christophers.