The families of the three Americans whom French authorities credit with halting a potential terror attack on a Paris-bound high-speed train Friday have said the heroic act reflected the young men's Christian faith and was a part of God's "providential will."
Last week, Airman First Class Spencer Stone, Oregon National Guard member Alek Skarlatos and college student Anthony Sadler were traveling on a high-speed train in Brussels bound for Paris as part of a three-week vacation when 25-year-old Ayoub El Khazzani boarded, armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a Luger automatic pistol, ammunition and a box-cutter.
According to the AP, El Khazzani opened fire, injuring a man before being wrestled to the floor and overpowered by the three young Americans and a Briton, 62-year-old business consultant Chris Norman.
Airman Stone and Mr. Skarlatos, both 22, first rushed the gunman, followed closely by Mr. Sadler, 23. Mr. Skarlatos then took the automatic weapon from El Khazzani before he could fire it, as the gunman attacked Airman Stone with a box cutter.
He stabbed Airman Stone "multiple times" in the back and severed a tendon and nerve on one hand, the AP reported. He also pulled out a handgun and put it to Airman Stone's head during the scuffle, pulling the trigger twice.
"But it clicked twice and didn't go off," Airman Stone's mother, Joyce Eskel, told the Wall Street Journal.
After subduing the gunman, Airman Stone helped another passenger who had been wounded in the throat, stopping his bleeding until paramedics came, Mr. Sadler told reporters.
"I'm just a college student," the young man said. "I came to see my friends for my first trip to Europe and we stop a terrorist. It's kind of crazy."
The young men, who were presented with France's highest honor by President Francois Hollande - the Legion d'Honneur - on Monday, are childhood friends who had all attended California's Freedom Christian School and often played military games together.
Peter Skarlatos, Alek's older brother, told the Sacramento Bee that all three men are strong Christians whose close bond and humility stems from their devotion to their faith.
"They're all Christians," he said. "They're all very religious."
Anthony Sadler, a Baptist pastor in Sacramento's Oak Park neighborhood, told reporters that he believes his son and his friends were used by God to disrupt what could have been a devastating tragedy.
"We believe God's providential will worked its way out," he said. "I'm just thankful they were there and got things done."
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Anthony Sadler Sr. explained that his son has a "great love for his friends."
"[T]here's no way he would stand on the sidelines and watch them get attacked," Sadler Sr. said. "I'm thanking God they were not seriously injured."
Mr. Skarlatos's father, Emanuel, told the WSJ that his son called him at his home in Roseburg, Ore., about two hours after the incident, "cool as a cucumber."
"He said, 'Dad, we took down a terrorist on a train,' " said Emanuel Skarlatos, 65. "I didn't even know he was going from Amsterdam to Paris."
In a statement released on Friday night, the White House praised the young men for their courage: "Echoing the statements of French authorities, the president expressed his profound gratitude for the courage and quick thinking of several passengers, including US service members, who selflessly subdued the attacker. 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. We will remain in close contact with French authorities as the investigation proceeds."
"These men are heroes," Air Force Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, head of the US European Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said in a statement. "Actions like this clearly illustrate the courage and commitment our young men and women have all the time, whether they are on duty or on leave. We are extremely proud of their efforts and now are praying for our injured airman to have a speedy recovery."