‘We’re going to have to get this guy’

How a Roseburg man helped subdue a suspected terrorist

By Mike Henneke First appeared on nrtoday.com on Aug. 21, 2015

When Alek Skarlatos heard what sounded like a gunshot and breaking glass on the train ride from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, he nudged his friend next to him.

Something wasn’t right.

An innocent vacation in Europe, involving two buddies since childhood, was about to take a terrifying turn.

A gunman armed with a Russian-made assault rifle, handgun and a knife opened fire on the train, wounding two people before Skarlatos, 22, and Spencer Stone, 22, from Carmichael, California, took action.

“We’re going to have to get this guy,” Alek told Stone, as the story was related later to Alek’s parents, Emanuel and Karen Skarlatos of Roseburg.

Both friends were in the military — Alek had returned home to Roseburg in June as a member of the National Guard Charlie Company unit, and Stone is on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.

As the story was related later by Emanuel Skarlatos, both young men said they reacted on instinct.

“When the clip malfunctioned, they took their chance and bum-rushed the guy,” Karen Skarlatos said.

Once the clip jammed in the gun of the suspect, later identified as a 26-year-old Moroccan, Stone charged at the gunman first, with Alek following close behind. Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University who was traveling with Stone and Skarlatos, also joined the effort to subdue the assailant. Stone tackled the gunman while Alek was eventually able to secure both of the guns. According to Emanuel Skarlatos, Alek struck the gunman on the side of the head repeatedly with the butt of the AK-47 until the three Americans, who were joined by a Briton, could “hogtie” the suspect for police, who met the train at the next stop.

Stone received cuts from the knife during the struggle, including severe damage to one of his thumbs, but his injuries are not life threatening.

Sadler told The AP 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 box cutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”

Alek’s father and stepmother were at their Roseburg home Friday when they received the cell phone call from Alek in Europe. Emanuel was working in the yard when he heard his wife screaming from the house for him to come to the phone.

“She was a little bit annoyed that I wasn’t coming quick enough,” Emanuel Skarlatos said.

Even after Alek relayed the story to his father, the reality of what happened didn’t sink in for Emanuel. His son and his friends were heroes.

“I didn’t think it was as big as it was,” Emanuel said. “But it’s a world-wide thing.”

Very much so, judging by the global media attention received by the Skarlatos family in just a few short hours.

A “Good Morning America” crew was en route to their home late Friday night. Journalists were calling nonstop from across the state and beyond.

While two local reporters were at the home speaking with the Emanuel and Karen Skarlatos, the phone rang again.

It was a call from a journalist in France.

Karen Skarlatos stood in the room next to the fireplace as the evening sky turned to darkness and told the story again.

As she talked, tears came to her eyes. Emanuel walked up next to her and put his arm around her while she spoke.

Can I speak with Alek, asked the voice on the other end in English. Everybody wanted to thank Alek, because he is considered a national hero in France.

After the call, Karen Skarlatos began to cry again, causing her to share an embrace with her husband.

They’re tears of happiness, not sadness, she said.

“Because I’m so proud of him,” Karen said, “and I’m so happy that he’s good, that he’s safe.”

As Emanuel sat down to tell the story one more time, the phone rang again. And yet again.

Emanuel said the three friends almost delayed their trip to Paris, because they were having far too much fun elsewhere.

“It was lucky for the people on that train that they were there,” Emanuel said, tears welling up in his eyes.

“And it’s not to brag about my son and his friend,” Emanuel said. “But it was fortuitous for the people on that train.”

Emanuel paused, his voice choking with emotion.

“I’m proud that he’s my son,” he said.

Karen Skarlatos couldn’t resist one Facebook message to her son following his heroic efforts.

Alek Skarlatos wants to be a police officer.

“I don’t think you’ll have any problem getting a job,” she wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.