A student from Northern California was among several train passengers who helped overpower a machine gun-toting attacker who wounded three people on a high-speed train in Europe Friday, authorities said.
Anthony Sadler Jr., a student from Rancho Cordova, California, was on the train before the attack, which French government officials said could have taken many lives if not for the bravery of Sadler and two of his friends.
"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."
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Officials said the gunman was arrested after being tackling and disarmed by Sadler, two friends in the U.S. military and another man. They encountered the attacker on a high-speed train traveling through Belgium on its trip between Amsterdam and Paris.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, speaking in the northern French city of Arras where the train was diverted, 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."
Air Force serviceman Spencer Stone remained hospitalized Saturday after being stabbed, though the Pentagon said the injury was not life-threatening. Another passenger was wounded by a handgun in the attack Friday night, according to a police union official.
The three men received medals which had been given to them by the local mayor, Reuters reported.
In an interview at his Rancho Cordova home, Anthony Sadler Sr. said he was stunned, but relieved his son was not injured or killed during the attack.
"I think it all happened just instinctively," Sadler Sr. said of his son's heroic actions. "He did what he felt was necessary."
Lottie Valentine, Sadler's great-aunt who lives in Los Angeles, said she wasn't surprised by her nephew's deed.
"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," she said.
Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University, was traveling with childhood friends Stone, of Carmichael, California, and Alek 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.