The Train to Amsterdam: What Really Happened [With More Updates]

I wrote yesterday about the U.S. servicemen who foiled a terrorist attack by a Moroccan Muslim who had been trained in Syria, aboard a Paris to Amsterdam train. As always, initial accounts of such an incident are confused and, at least in details, contradictory. In this case, though, it turns out that they were correct in substance–although the servicemen, called Marines last night, are being described this way this morning:

Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guard Specialist Alek Skarlatos and college senior Anthony Sadler, all friends from childhood…

The New York Post has an account by one of the participants that tells us what really happened:

Two off-duty members of the US military prevented a massacre Friday by overpowering a rifle-wielding madman after he opened fire aboard a high-speed train in France, wounding three people.

The gunman, identified by authorities as Moroccan national Sliman Hamzi, is a known Islamic militant, CNN reported, quoting a senior ­European anti-terrorism official.

The gunfire took place in the rear car of the Paris to Amsterdam express. Three people were shot, including one of the Americans, who was seriously wounded but expected to survive. A friend of the heroes, Anthony Sadler, also was aboard the train and saw what happened. He identified them as Spencer Stone, of Sacramento, who was injured and Alek Skarlatos of Roseburg, Ore., who was unhurt.

Sadler (left) and Skarlatos, holding medals they already have been awarded by the French

Sadler (left) and Skarlatos, holding medals they already have been awarded by the French

“We heard a gunshot, and we heard glass breaking behind us, and saw a train employee sprint past us down the aisle,” Sadler told the AP.

Fleeing, understandably.

Then they spotted a gunman entering the train car with an automatic rifle.
“As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, ‘Spencer, go!’ And Spencer runs down the aisle,” Sadler said.

So presumably Spencer was on the aisle.

“Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles 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. The gunman never said a word.”

The unarmed Americans were wearing civilian clothing.

An old adage holds,”Charge a gun, flee a knife.” I’m not sure that is always good advice, but in this case it was the knife–or boxcutter, a throwback to September 11–that did the damage.

Here, Skarlatos and Sadler add more. Among other things it appears that the wounded Spencer gave first aid to a badly wounded civilian and perhaps saved his life:

President Obama issued a statement that was both ungrammatical and oddly restrained:

While the investigation into the attack is in its early stages, it is clear that their heroic actions may have prevented a far worse tragedy.

“Clear” doesn’t comport with “may.” What is clear is that the courageous servicemen most certainly did prevent a far worse tragedy. But, whatever. It has nothing to do with him.

Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler

Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler

MORE: A prominent French actor, Jean-Hugues Anglade, witnessed the attack and gave this first-person account:

“We heard passengers screaming in English ‘He’s shooting! He’s shooting!,’ Anglade, who was traveling with his girlfriend and his two children, tells the French-language newspaper, which has been translated to English.

“We were in car 11, the last. The armed man looked towards us, he was determined. I thought it was the end, we were going to die, he was going to kill us all,” says Anglade, who badly cut his finger breaking into the train’s emergency box to sound the alarm and apply the brake.

Fortunately, Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler were onboard, their quick action preventing any loss of life. According to Anglade, Sadler came into their car and told them that they had subdued the shooter. He also supplied them with survival blankets and first aid kit.

Anglade escaped with five stitches and, he says, profound respect for the Americans who put their lives in jeopardy to save others.

“We were incredibly lucky to have these American soldiers. I want to pay tribute to their heroic courage and thank them, without them we’d all be dead.”

The Washington Post headlines: “3 American friends tackle and hogtie gunman aboard European train.”

They are friends from middle school, and two of them were members of the armed services, according to their family members.

One of the Americans, Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, was stabbed and remained in the hospital Saturday, said the parents of his two friends. The Pentagon said his wounds were not life-threatening.

Stone, who is stationed at Lajes Air Base in the Azores, was traveling with Spc. Alek Skarlatos, an Oregon National Guardsman, and a civilian friend, according to the Pentagon. Anthony Sadler, a student at Sacramento State University, is their civilian companion, according to their families.

The three Americans were on a weeks-long tour through Europe, enjoying time together after Skarlatos, 22, had been deployed to Afghanistan. …

Chris Norman, a British businessman who helped tie up the shooter once he was subdued, told TV reporters in Arras that the incident unfolded quickly and began when the sound of a gunshot rang out and passengers saw a train employee run past. When Norman looked up, he saw a man carrying a machine gun, prompting him to duck down in his seat. At that point, he said, three Americans sitting near him also took notice of the gunman and immediately took action.

“Alek said to Spencer, ‘Go get him,’ ” Norman said. “Spencer jumped up and tackled him and actually started getting the terrorist under control.”

Skarlatos told reporters that despite the danger, his friend sprung to his feet.

“Spencer ran a good 10 meters to get to the guy and we didn’t know that his gun wasn’t working or anything like that. Spencer just ran anyway, and if anyone would’ve gotten shot it would’ve been Spencer, for sure.”

The Moroccan terrorist had already shot at least one passenger, but his gun may have jammed.

Norman said his first reaction was to hide, but after he saw the Americans fighting the attacker, he said he went to help them.

“Spencer caught the terrorist by the neck, and I grabbed his right arm,” Norman said. “We managed to get him under control. I am not a hero. What I did was normal. It’s a miracle the attack failed. I think his gun was jammed.”

Sadler said even though Stone was injured in the scuffle, he went to aid an injured passenger.

“Without his help he would’ve died. That man was bleeding from his neck profusely,” Sadler said.

Stone has been released from the hospital. Here is is, leaving the French clinic:


AND FINALLY: We have what may be the lamest headline to come out of the incident, from the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Authorities laud European train passengers for averting attack by heavily armed man.