By Tech. Sgt. Ryan Crane, Headquarters U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa
/ Published August 23, 2015
PARIS (AFNS) -- U.S. Ambassador to France, Jane D. Hartley, recognized Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone for his actions in saving countless lives during a terrorist attack aboard a train headed toward Paris Aug. 21.
“We often use the word hero, and in this case I know that word has never been more appropriate," Hartley said.
"They are truly heroes. When most of us would run away, Spencer, Alek and Anthony ran into the line of fire, saying 'Let's go.' Those words changed the fate of many."
Stone and his two friends, Aleksander Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler, were on vacation and headed from Amsterdam to Paris when an armed man entered their cabin.
“It wasn’t a conscious decision,” Skarlatos, an Army National Guard Soldier stationed in Oregon said. “We didn’t even have time to think about it. We just acted.”
The trio had just spent the previous three days enjoying Amsterdam on their vacation. They were excited to make it to Paris so they got up early and made their way to the train station. Their train wasn’t leaving for four hours so they killed time buying souvenirs and, according to them, eating the best ice cream they ever had. They thought their vacation was off to a great start.
Their train arrived and it was time to depart Amsterdam.
“We had first class tickets,” Stone explained, “but we just found a spot we liked somewhere else on the train. Turns out our wagon didn’t have Wi-Fi so we decided to use our first class tickets and moved to another wagon.”
After about an hour on the train they were settled in somewhere in Belgium.
“I was asleep with my headphones on and my friend, Alek, was sitting to the left of me and Anthony was sitting to my right across the aisle,” Stone said. “I wake up and I see Alek moving around saying ‘oh crap! oh crap!’”
Skarlatos motioned to the gunman who entered the cabin brandishing an AK-style assault rifle.
“I kinda turn around and see the guy,” Stone said, “and he’s got the AK, he’s trying to charge it. I just throw my headphones off and turn around in my seat, get low and kinda look around.”
At this point the gunman had passed Stone and Skarlatos. It was at that moment their lives changed.
“Alek taps me on the shoulder and says ‘go get ‘em!’ and that’s when I got up and I sprinted at him,” he said.
“It was a long sprint. It felt like slow motion.”
“I heard him charge it (the assault rifle) a few more times, and heard a ‘click.’ It still wasn't working.”
Stone explained that every time he heard a click, he feared that he would die.
“I heard the ‘click’ and thought, ‘whew! I’m still here,’” he said.
Stone finally made contact with the gunman, throwing his body into him. The two started grappling.
“I was feeling for the gun and couldn't find it,” Stone said. “I felt it a couple times but he kept taking it away. So I just put him in a rear naked choke to protect myself and my friend, Alek, came up and took the AK. But he just kept pulling weapons left and right. He pulled a handgun and it seemed liked he pointed it back at me and I heard it click.”
It is not apparent why the guns malfunctioned so many times, but it gave the trio time to wrestle them away from the gunman.
“I saw him making a slashing motion,” Stone explained. “When I leaned over his shoulder I see he has about a six-inch box cutter blade and I look down and my thumb is hanging halfway off.”
At this point Stone lost his grip on the gunman.
“I let him go and by that point the shooter was in the middle and me, Alek and Anthony are just surrounding him and we just started pounding him,” he said. “I got him in another choke and I choked him out until he went unconscious and my friend kept hitting him in the face with the gun.”
The gunman was down. The trio began assessing any other threats in the area.
“My friend (pointed) out the guy who got hit in the neck,” Stone said. “I don’t know how he got hit but he was spurting blood everywhere. So I yelled out ‘I’m a medic I’m a medic!’ and took the guy and held him down. I just stuck my finger in his neck, found what I thought was an artery and just pressed down. I held that position until authorities came.”
At this point, Stone was pretty badly wounded. His thumb was nearly severed and he had sustained gashes that were dangerously close to major arteries. The nurses later told him that he was lucky that the cuts were not further over.
Despite his wounds he never had a second thought about helping someone else.
“I felt like I was the only person who could help him,” Stone said. “I didn't really care about my injuries at that point because I thought that guy was gonna die, so I wanted to give him a fighting chance.”
Stone said that he believes everything happens for a reason. Every moment in life leads to the next. He said that there was a reason he and his friends were on that train and that they moved to first class.
“I feel good that we were able to save those people there in that right moment,” Stone said.
Stone, 23, has been in the Air Force for nearly three years. His training as a medic prepared him for how to react in a situation like this, but his family taught him to help those who need help.
“I would say it was more so how I was raised and the Air Force just gave me the tools I needed to be the person I have always wanted to be I guess,” Stone said. “There have been a bunch of influential people in my career so far that have just helped me gain the knowledge that I have.”
When asked about his family, Stone cracked a smile.
“Oh yeah; my family is proud of me. My brother is yelling ‘My brother is an international hero!’ screaming over the phone. My mother, sister, friends, family neighbors — everyone is excited for me.”
The story has been played out in the public light over the past few days and is certainly an intense ride. Many said that it feels like a movie in the making. Jokingly, Stone said that if they ever do make this into a movie, he knows exactly who he wants to play him.
“Denzel Washington, but I don’t think that would ever happen,” Stone joked.
Despite his fairly calm demeanor only days after the attack, Stone was able to reflect on the event as a day that could have gone a lot differently.
“If it wasn't for Alek and Anthony, I’d be dead,” Stone said. “I wouldn't have been able to do it by myself. He definitely woulda' got me.”
The gunman had multiple magazines and almost 300 rounds of ammunition.
“He seemed like he was ready to fight to the end,” Stone said. “So were we.”