The three Americans heralded as heroes for thwarting a 2015 terrorist attack on a Paris bound train say God divinely orchestrated events leading up to the fateful moment.
The actions of the childhood friends former U.S. Air Force Airman First Class Spencer Stone, National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, and Anthony Sadler are the subject of Academy Award-winning director Clint Eastwood’s latest film “The 15:17 to Paris,” which opens this weekend.
The three men, who portray themselves in the movie, were vacationing together in Europe in August 2015 when they boarded a train in Amsterdam heading to Paris.
Part way into their trip, a 25-year-old Moroccan man named Ayoub El Khazzani exited a restroom bearing an AK-47, with a 9 mm pistol and a box cutter also in his possession.
One of the French passengers immediately got into a struggle with the terrorist, and another passenger, American-born Frenchman Mark Moogalian, came to his aide and managed to wrestle the rifle from El Khazzani.
The assailant then shot Moogalian with his 9 mm and retrieved the AK-47.
That is when Stone, Skarlatos, and Sadler sprang into action managing to disarm and apprehend the terrorist.
For their bravery, then French President Francois Hollande awarded them with the Legion of Honor, saying their quick action likely saved many lives, given the hundreds of passengers on board the train.
Stone, Skarlatos and Sadler met as young boys as students at a Christian school in Sacramento, California.
“15:17 to Paris” explores how their bonds of friendship formed and the role faith played in their lives.
“It’s pretty essential to the story,” Skarlatos told The Christian Post.
“If you look at the odds of everything that happened and how close we came to dying on so many different occasions, it’s too coincidental,” he added. “It was too astronomical for it to be just chance. It had to be God looking out for us. And by (the movie) showing how we were raised — that was just all part of the story.”
The three eventually parted ways, pursuing different goals, which included military service for Stone and Skarlotos and Sadler heading off to college. The European trip was a reunion after years of being apart.
They saw God’s providence in how events played out on August 21, 2015. The trio had actually left Amsterdam a day earlier than their original plan.
Additionally, when the young men, all in their early twenties, boarded the train, they decided to switch from coach to first class, which is where the assault took place.
Two skills Stone learned in the Air Force served him well that day.
The first was Jujitsu, which he employed to subdue El Khazzani.
However, the reason Stone was able to charge the terrorist and get into a hand-to-hand struggle with him in the first place was that the AK-47 misfired when El Khazzani tried to shoot the American.
“The gun was functioning fine, but it was a faulty bullet,” Skarlatos explained to The Christian Post, marveling at how rare a bad round of ammunition is.
“And then when he shot Mark (Moogalian) with the handgun he must have dropped the magazine out of the gun and he used the only bullet to shoot him with. So when he tried to shoot me there was nothing in it.”
The other skill Stone learned was advanced first aid. He had not intended to become a medic when he joined the service, but his preferred job was not available to him. The airman put those medical skills to good use saving Moogalian’s life, even after suffering severe cuts to his neck and thumb, which El Khazzani nearly cut off.
“We know this series of events weren’t coincidences,” said Sadler, whose father is a Baptist preacher. “It’s like our lives were leading up to that moment. You don’t always know what plan God has for you. What we’ve come to realize with hindsight is that (this) was all part of a plan, of a bigger picture. That’s where we were supposed to be that day.”
“I think it’s our responsibility to take that message and be responsible with it and spread it as much as we can so we don’t waste the opportunity that (God) gave us,” Sadler told The Guardian. “The fact that we’re living, we’re meant to spread the story and it’s meant to touch people, and we’re the three people that were chosen to do that.”
Skarlotos thinks the reality of God’s providence comes through in Eastwood’s film.
“(W)hen people see the movie, it does a good job at laying out all the weird coincidences and plan by God that led us there,” he said. “In hindsight, looking back on our lives, it seems like we were preparing our whole entire lives for that moment. There’s no denying it.”
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