Heroes of ‘The 15:17 to Paris’ share faith, detail events of thwarted terrorist attack
What started as a three-week vacation touring Europe turned into a defining moment for friends Alek Skarlatos, Anthony Sadler, and Spencer Stone. On Friday, the men sat down with Senior Vice President for Spiritual Development David Nasser during Liberty University Convocation to tell the story of how God used their ordinary lives to save more than 550 train passengers from an attack.
The friends recounted how on Aug. 21, 2015, they boarded the 15:17 from Amsterdam to Paris. Stone and Skarlatos were on leave from the military, while Sadler was a student at Sacramento State University. While on the train, a man armed with an assault rifle opened fire on the unsuspecting passengers.
As the attack unfolded, the three friends burst into action, quickly disarming and subduing the terrorist. Stone was critically injured in the attack and was stabbed numerous times.
Their story made international headlines and thrust them into the spotlight as heroes. They were even cast as themselves in the new Clint Eastwood directed-movie, “The 15:17 to Paris,” which is out in theaters today.
As they sat on the Convocation stage, however, the three stressed that their story wouldn’t be possible without God, who guided them down a path that would prepare them for action as they found themselves in the right place at the right time.
“After the terrorist attack, it really just affirmed in us the miracles of God just because of so many things that went our way that day, just putting us in the right time and place to begin with,” Skarlatos said.
He explained how things that seemed insignificant at the time — like choosing to leave Amsterdam that day, switching spots on the train because of a bad Wi-Fi connection, and having the terrorist’s gun malfunction in the middle of the attack — later pointed back to God’s sovereignty.
“The odds are too astronomical for it to just be chance,” Skarlatos said. “You rarely have a moment in your life where you can say, ‘This was God.’ I think since then it’s affirmed our faith just because we’ve had a moment where you can’t deny (Him).”
The three childhood friends from Sacramento, Calif., joked casually as they talked about their early years attending a Christian school and how they all met in the principal’s office.
Sadler explained that growing up he was able to see how his father followed God’s leading to become a pastor and was yearning for that confidence to find his own God-given purpose. After averting the attack, Sadler said he believed it was a “big biblical moment” for him, as well as his friends.
“Everything that’s happened in the two years since then has been a confirmation for me that, man, for the first time in my life, I’m actually walking in the steps that (God) has led me down,” he said. “I feel very blessed to have experienced that.”
Stone discussed his own search for purpose, experiencing a string of closed doors while pursuing a military career and, eventually, becoming an Air Force medical technician. Because of that training, Stone was able to save the life of Mark Moogalian, another passenger on the train who was shot trying to stop the terrorist. (Moogalian also plays himself in the movie.)
“Things that I wanted were denied to me because it was all leading me to the things I needed,” Stone said. “(Those medical skills) were exactly what I needed on August 21, 2015, as I held Mark because he would have just bled out and died.”
The friends also talked about working with Eastwood, as well as former “The Office” star Jenna Fisher.
Stone said they feel blessed that Eastwood took the chance to cast them as themselves and the platform it has given them.
“I think that’s another way God has been using us,” Stone said. “In any interview, I have made the point to … bring the credit to God because without Him, we’d be dead.”
In closing, the three stressed how they want the Gospel to be portrayed through their story.
“Surviving the terrorist attack really helped me overcome a lot of fears I had in in my life,” Skalatos said. “But you don’t need to survive a terrorist attack to conquer your fears. Not being afraid to try certain things has given me a lot of freedom in my life, and I think that’s a very important takeaway for everyone here and everyone who watches the movie.”
In an interview following Convocation, Sadler said he felt college students could especially relate to their story and hopes it can encourage them.
“We’re three ordinary guys. It doesn’t take military experience or knowledge to do what we did,” he said. “If people find themselves in that situation, we want them to know they can do extraordinary things as well.”
Skalatos, Sadler, and Stone, also took time to meet and take pictures with students, including those in the Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) program.