Anthony Sadler Jr., a student from Rancho Cordova, California, was on a high-speed train in Europe on Friday when an attacker carrying a machine gun wounded three people before Sadler and his friends were able to help take him down.
According to officials, the gunman was tackled and disarmed by Sadler, Alek Skartalos, Spencer Stone – two friends in the U.S. military – and another man and subsequently arrested.
“I’m just a college student,” Sadler told Reuters. “It’s my last year in college. I came to see my friends on my first trip in Europe and we stopped a terrorist. It’s kind of crazy.”
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, in speaking about the incident, said the Americans “were particularly courageous and showed great bravery in very difficult circumstances,” and that “without their sangfroid we could have been confronted with a terrible drama.”
The three men were given medals, which were presented by the local mayor.
“I think it all happened just instinctively,” Anthony Sadler Sr. said of his son’s heroic actions. “He did what he felt was necessary.”
“Even as a kid, if he saw an old lady putting groceries in the car, he would go and ask if he could help … he saw someone in trouble, he’d just step in,” said Lottie Valentine, Sadler’s great-aunt.
Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, was traveling with childhood friends Stone, of Carmichael, California, and Skarlatos, a National Guardsman from Roseburg, Oregon, when they heard a gunshot and breaking glass. Sadler told The Associated Press that they saw a train employee sprint down the aisle followed by a gunman 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. “Spencer makes first contact, he tackles the guy, Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a boxcutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”
Another passenger helped tie the gunman up, and Stone then quickly turned to help another passenger who had been wounded in the throat, stopping his bleeding until paramedics came, Sadler said.
Sadler’s family said they were praying for his safe return home. The family also confirmed Sadler was being held at an undisclosed location in France until he can safely return back to California.
Sadler Sr. added that he was proud of his son and is still wrapping his head around the news.
“He leaves here a young man on an excursion to broaden his world view and have fun with his buddies and he comes back as France’s national hero,” Sadler Sr. said.