Real-life heroes Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler portray themselves in ‘The 15:17 to Paris,’ Clint Eastwood’s retelling of how they incapacitated a crazed gunman and saved close to 600 lives on board a train in August 2015.
Best buds Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler grew up together in California. In August 2015, Stone was stationed in Portugal with the U.S. Air Force, Skarlatos had just completed a deployment in Afghanistan with the National Guard, and Sadler was a student at Sacramento State University. They all met up for a three-week vacation in Europe. After visiting Rome, Venice, Munich, Berlin, and Amsterdam, they were headed to Paris. On board the train, they encountered a gunman and became international heroes after incapacitating him and securing the safety of close to 600 passengers and crew.
2015 Thalys Train Attack
On August 21, 2015, Thalys train 9364 was traveling from Amsterdam to Paris when passenger Ayoub El Khazzani, armed with an AKM assault rifle and 270 rounds of ammunition, opened fire. Passengers, including Spencer Stone, Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler, quickly responded. After Stone tackled El Khazzani, the gunman tried to slit his throat with a box cutter and sliced his thumb to the bone, nearly severing it. Stone then got him in a choke hold and Skarlatos seized the assailant’s rifle and beat him in the head with its muzzle until El Khazzani was rendered unconscious. Skarlatos then swept the other train cars for more gunmen while Sadler and fellow passenger Chris Norman tied El Khazzani’s arms behind his back with Norman’s T-shirt. Meanwhile, passenger Mark Moogalian was severely injured by the initial gunshots and blood was pouring from his neck. Stone, a medic, stuck his fingers into Moogalian’s neck and was able to stop the bleeding until the train arrived in Arras, France where the remaining passengers were investigated before proceeding onto Paris. Moogalian and Stone were treated at a hospital in Lille, France.
Among the 554 passengers, only two were injured by the gunman: Stone and Moogalian. Some have speculated this to be an Islamist terrorist attack, although El Khazzani indicated that robbery was his only intent (he was homeless and living on the streets of Brussels at the time and claims he found the guns in the park where he slept). He is currently awaiting trial in France. Stone, Sklarlatos, and Sadler received worldwide recognition for their heroism.
Spencer Stone was born on August 13, 1992 in Sacramento, California to Brian Stone and Joyce Eskel. While attending Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, California, he met his now-best friends Alek Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler. Growing up, Stone was active in sports and enjoyed helping others. He always wanted to become a soldier. After high school, he enlisted in the United States Air Force. Stone worked at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield, California as a medic and intake clerk for children’s treatment. Stone was promoted to the rank of senior airman in 2015 and was stationed in Portugal. A few weeks after the Thalys train attack while back in the United States, on October 8, 2015, Stone was stabbed by James Tran during a fight in downtown Sacramento. He suffered life-threatening injuries but recovered. Tran pleaded guilty and was sentenced to nine years in prison. In 2015 (effective in 2016), Stone was meritoriously promoted to staff sergeant but left the United States Air Force soon after.
For his role in the Thalys train attack, Stone was honored by the United States Armed Forces with the Airman’s Medal and a Purple Heart. French President François Hollande awarded Stone the Legion of Honour, the highest French order for military and civil merits. Stone also received the Belgium Civic Service Medal. He was also honored as a hero in Spike’s annual 2016 Guys’ Choice Awards.
Aleksander Reed Skarlatos was born on October 10, 1992 in Castro Valley, California to Emanuel Skarlatos and Heidi Hansen. Skarlatos became friends with Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler while attending Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, California. Skarlatos graduated from Roseburg High School in Roseburg, Oregon and joined the Oregon Army National Guard in 2012. He was deployed to Afghanistan for nine months during 2014-2015. In 2015, Skarlatos partnered with professional dancer Lindsay Arnold in season 21 of Dancing with the Stars. They finished in third place. Skarlatos left the National Guard in 2017.
For his role in the Thalys train attack, Skarlatos was honored by the United States Armed Forces with the Army Soldier’s Medal, the highest medal awarded to Army personnel for actions not taken in combat. Skarlatos was also awarded the Legion of Honour by French president François Hollande and the bravery medal of the city of Arras.
Anthony Sadler, Jr. was born in 1992 in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania to Anthony Sadler, Sr. and Mariah Sadler. While attending Freedom Christian School in Fair Oaks, California, Sadler became friends with Alek Skarlatos and Spencer Stone. Sadler later became a star basketball player for Rosemont High School in Sacramento, California from 2009-2010. Sadler earned a B.S. in kinesiology from Sacramento State University in 2017.
For his role in the Thalys train attack, Sadler was awarded the Secretary of Defense Medal for Valor. Sadler was also made a Knight of the Legion of Honour (Chevaliers de la Légion d’honneur) by French president François Hollande. He also received the bravery medal of the city of Arras and the Belgium Civic Service Medal.
’15:17 to Paris’
The three heroes joined together to co-write an autobiographical memoir, The 15:17 to Paris: The True Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes, which was adapted by Clint Eastwood into the 2018 film, The 15:17 to Paris. The film tells this true American hero story and stars Stone, Skarlatos, Sadler, Moogalian, and Norman as themselves as well as many of the real-life train crew, medical team, and police responders alongside Hollywood actresses Judy Greer and Jenna Fischer. All three heroes are “extremely happy with how everything turned out,” they told Army Times in a recent interview. Thanks to Eastwood taking a chance on them in a major motion picture, they’ve all caught the “acting bug” and plan to pursue acting careers.