“The 15:17 to Paris” Heroes Share Their Story at Convocation

The three American citizens who prevented a potentially catastrophic terrorist attack on a train in Europe spoke in Convocation Friday, Feb. 9 about their experiences before, during and after the moments that inspired the newly-released movie “The 15:17 to Paris.”

On Aug. 21, 2015, two U.S. military members, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, and their lifelong friend, Anthony Sadler, were backpacking through western Europe and traveling from Amsterdam to Paris when something other than the scenic views and authentic cuisine demanded their attention.

While the three Americans relaxed, Moroccan-born jihadist Ayoub El Khazzani was preparing for an attack on the train’s occupants with a suitcase filled with an AK-47 machine gun with 270 rounds of ammunition, a 9mm pistol and a box-cutter, among other weapons.

After tussling with a different American passenger by the name of Mark Moogalian and shooting him in the back and neck, Khazzani moved into the train car where the three friends were seated. Following intense moments of slashing, grappling and wrestling between the three Americans and Khazzani, the terrorist was neutralized, and the names of Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone were on their way to news headlines across the world.

The three men said the odds that they were on the right train car at the right time to prevent the attack reaffirmed their faith in Christ.

“For us to experience such a biblical moment at 23 and have that kind of confirmation that ‘I am in the right place at the right time, and I was where God had me to be this day’ —  that’s a confirmation that most people don’t get in their lives, and we’re extremely thankful for that,” Sadler said at Convocation.

While their Christian faith has played a major role throughout their lives, their actions on the train and the publicity they received afterwards have allowed them to minister to nonbelievers, including Mark Moogalian.

“Hopefully this situation has (Mark) kind of thinking about what else is out there, and (Mark and his wife) had a chance to see our story and it was interesting for them to see our backstory,” Sadler said.

Based on the book of the same name, the movie “The 15:17 to Paris” tells the story of the three men from their childhood to the events following the incident on the train and has Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood as its director. In a highly unusual casting move, Eastwood has Sadler, Skarlatos and Stone play themselves in the film. This has been a major talking point leading up to the film’s release this past weekend.

“We realized what a chance he was taking on us and what a chance that we were taking on ourselves, and if actors would have been playing it, then I don’t think that the message of God would have been able to get out there,” Stone said.

The men agreed that the massive platform afforded to a film with Eastwood’s name attached is a tremendous blessing and opportunity for evangelism that they hope to seize.

“Hopefully the platform that Mr. Eastwood provides extends to millions of people and the audience understands that there was something deeper in the situation than just us getting up,” Sadler said. “You can’t tell the story without talking about the faith elements in our lives … and we feel like it’s kind of our responsibility to use this platform to witness to people and reach people.”

Being that they were speaking to an audience comprised of college students, the Convocation guests also spoke about the importance of challenging oneself and finding strength in God. Skarlatos spoke about how before the train incident, he was someone who was afraid of public speaking and facing large crowds, but as a result of the attention, he has dramatically improved his abilities in the area.

“You don’t need to survive a terrorist attack to conquer your fears,” Skarlatos said. 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 their time on the Convocation stage, the trio of American heroes encouraged anyone listening to face threats, whether mental, spiritual or even physical, and do so through belief and trust in Christ.

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